Developing a Question

Questions that generate inquiry almost always start with noticing–noticing where student learning often falters, or noticing that certain capable students are unable to complete the semester or rise to certain challenges but succeed at others. Along with noticing, a question is always driven by the values and hopes one brings to teaching.

For example, David Reynolds (West Hills) begins his inquiry by wanting more for his students but feeling unsure how to make it happen. Believing in the importance of his basic skills students reading difficult texts, and wanting to introduce rigor into their experience, his inquiry comes from a kind of “what if” question: Would my students be able to read more difficult texts profitably if I did more to scaffold that experience?”

Katie Hern (Chabot College) begins with the question, “Why do some students fail? Is it really a matter of ability or sustainability?” Her analysis of the problem led her, through a series of student interviews, to understand better the different causes of difficulty with sustainability, which in turn enabled her to devise a range of interventions.

Yu Chung Chang (Pasadena) noticed after many years of experience that her algebra students often struggled with word problems on the grounds of literacy issues, not just math. Yu-Chung was concerned about her students’ lack of success in Intermediate Algebra, so she began her own inquiry into their attitudes and approaches to solving word problems and translating them into math language. Eventually her inquiry led to her creation of a “nine-step process that required students to break a word problem into smaller pieces by using reading and writing strategies.”

What these cases–and all of the inquiry projects in the Windows on Learning collection–have in common is that their inquiries began with a question. Faculty who engage in inquiry projects often find that their questions are too broad or too ambitious. That is, faculty often find there is a difference between “having questions” and “developing a question” that can become an inquiry project. Some questions you might ask yourself about your own questions about learning:

  • Does your question emerge from observation?
  • Is it a question you could learn more about?
  • Is it a question shared by others who teach similar courses?

REFLECTION PROMPT: What are examples of questions that you have about your teaching and your students’ learning?

Navigate to other pages in the Faculty Inquiry Cycle:

August 20, 2008