Instructional Strategies – Higher Order Questions and Student Engagement

Classroom Kids - Keeping Learning on Track (KLT)

Engaging the entire classroom in topical discussion is a smart instructional strategy, but it can be a challenge. Too often there’s part of the classroom actively engaged and part, well… not so much. Research has shown, however, that multiple methods of eliciting evidence of student understanding (e.g., higher-order questions, wait time, all student responses systems) are effective for increasing student engagement.

In one example, Tobin and Capie, two education researchers at Florida State University 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 (e.g., attending to a task, responding to questions, collecting data, 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.  (Relationships between classroom process variables and middleschool science achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1982, 74(3), 441–454.)

In a research synthesis examining the relationship between classroom evaluation practices and student outcomes, Terence Crooks from the University of Otago reported similar findings for the use of higher-order questions and student interest. More specifically, Crooks (citing Barak Rosenshine and Robert Stevens in 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.  (The impact of classroom evaluation practices on students. Review of Educational Research, 1988, 58(4), 438–481.)

More often than not, many classroom discussions consist of lower-order questions that are answered by 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.

Teacher professional development programs like Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) provide teachers with practical classroom techniques and instructional strategies that more effectively elicit evidence of student learning. KLT helps teachers to develop higher-order thinking questions that require all students in the class to deeply engage with the content. These techniques increase the engagement of all students rather than just those who typically raise their hands.

If you’re a teacher, we’d love to hear what types of techniques you’re using to engage your students, so leave a comment below.