Higher-Order Questions, Rigor, and Meeting the Common Core State Standards

Higher-Order Questions, Rigor, and Meeting the Common Core State Standards

Barbara Blackburn, on her website, has a great definition of “rigor” that I think most educators can get behind, and that I certainly appreciate:

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level.  

For me it connects to both the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and formative assessment where students are expected to, supported in, and demonstrate higher-order thinking.

Rigor is about helping students learn at higher levels. For me, this translates to designing opportunities for students to take more responsibility for their own learning and to support their peers in their learning. Blackburn also talks about questioning both what teachers are asking of students and responding to those students. How to do both at higher levels is going to be a key piece of creating the environment that supports increased rigor in the classroom.

As a teacher, I have to work on not only asking better questions but also asking questions better. And I have to be figuring out how to teach my students to do the same two things. Both of these include planning:

+ How can I make better use of hinge-point questions to help me know what students need to move on in their learning?

+ What question will I ask and when in the lesson to provide scaffolding to support the higher expectations?

+ How do I want students to demonstrate their learning at high levels? This requires that I am familiar with the “critical words” we use to ask students to demonstrate their learning, whether on an assessment or in class conversation

+ What strategies will I use to increase student engagement, to involve all students in responding to the questions not just to the teacher but amongst themselves as well, to push their thinking higher (or deeper)?

More often than not, 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 thinking and learning and responses are not systematically collected from all students in the class.

Does it work? 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 middle school science achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1982, 74(3), 441–454.)

In another research experiment 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.)

How are teachers and educators in your school using higher-order questions and formative assessment to support and implement the rigor necessary for Common Core success? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below.


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