Strengthening Rigor in STEM- The Art of Questioning

As teachers, we are constantly checking for understanding.  We question and probe students daily to test their depth of knowledge, but are we asking the right kinds of questions that will help our students exercise their critical thinking skills and develop better problem solving skills?

Asking rigorous questions is determining where a student is ability-wise and asking them to consider further possibilities to push their thinking. (Remember that ALL students benefit from rigor, not just high-performers!).  It is also providing students with key elements to help them be successful.

While I was observing a 7th grade math class, the teacher asked the class to find 15% of 65. Surprised that no one was talking (about anything), I asked the two students closest to me what they thought of the problem.  They seemed surprised that I was talking to them, but before I could even start into a discussion with them, the teacher was on to the next problem.

This scenario illustrates some key elements that help us to focus on how to use questioning to build rigor:

  • Rigor is carefully crafting and presenting a problem or question.   A rigorous math class may only work on a few questions for the entire period, but it is the careful consideration of each problem and the various solutions students share that help students to develop critical thinking skills.
  • Rigor is accepting different solutions. Depending on the question posed to the class, there may truly only be one answer, but students should feel comfortable driving their thinking and arriving at that answer through different strategies.
  •  Rigor is providing time.  Students need adequate time (and space- both on paper and physically) to think through solutions to problems.
  • Rigor is collaborative.  Students should be encouraged share their ideas with their team/classmates and use each other as sound boards for possible solutions.
  • Rigor is being supportive. Students need to feel supported and know that a wrong answer is an opportunity to examine their work to find out what happened, not the equivalent of a demerit. They also need to feel secure in asking their own questions to clarify a concept or confine a problem.

By keeping these key elements in mind, using questioning to build rigor in the classroom becomes less elusive and helps students to think deeper to build problem solving skills.

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