Formative Assessment: Higher-Order Questions and Increased Wait Time Increase Student Engagement


Formative Assessment:  Higher-Order Questions and Increased Wait Time Increase Student EngagementWe recently wrote that utilizing formative assessment strategies in the classroom can create a Teachable Moment minute-to-minute and day-by-day. Here is some research that backs our thinking and makes a strong argument for eliciting evidence of student learning.

There are multiple methods of eliciting evidence of student understanding, including higher-order questions, wait time, and all student response systems that are effective for increasing student engagement and creating a classroom based around student centered learning. As example, Tobin and Capie (1982, Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(3), 441–454) investigated the use of higher-order questions in conjunction with increased wait time and its effect on student engagement in 13 middle school classrooms. Teachers in the study were provided with guidance in the choice of higher-order questions, the enhancement of wait time, or both. Students in each of the classrooms were then observed for engagement – such as attending to a task, responding to questions, collecting data, or explaining information – and academic achievement. The researchers concluded that both the use of higher-order questions and increased wait time significantly contributed to increases in student engagement.

When investigating their data-based problem-solving approach to instruction, Jones and Krouse (1988, Teacher Education and Special Education, 1(1), 9–19) found that students in the experimental classrooms showed lower rates of off-task behavior. Again, this approach encourages students and teachers to collect data on student learning, develop hypotheses to explain obstacles, and make changes  to instruction and learning to address the obstacles and reexamine student progress.

In a research synthesis examining the relationship between classroom evaluation practices and student outcomes, Crooks (1988, Review of Educational Research, 58(4), 438–481) reported similar findings for the use of higher-level questions and student interest. More specifically, Crooks (citing Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986) suggested that the use of questions to actively engage a high percentage of students may explain the positive relationship that is generally found between increased use of classroom questioning and student achievement. The author suggested that to obtain the full benefit, classroom questions should be directed to as many students as possible.

Many classroom discussions consist of lower-order questions that are answered by only a few motivated students. These questions are not rich enough to provide detailed information about student learning and responses are not systematically collected from all students in the class. Be sure to read our blogs on formative assessment strategies and techniques that increase the engagement of all students rather than just those who typically raise their hands.

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Kathy Dyer

Kathy Dyer is a Sr. Curriculum Specialist for NWEA, designing and developing learning opportunities for partners and internal staff. Formerly a Professional Development Consultant for NWEA, she coached teachers and school leadership and provided professional development focused on assessment, data, and leadership. In a career that includes 20 years in the education field, she has also served as a district achievement coordinator, principal, and classroom teacher. She received her Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Colorado Denver.

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