Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Slice of Life: The Question Formulation Technique in Action

On Tuesdays, the community of Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Join the incredible community by writing a snippet of life, or even join with just a comment or two. Everyone is welcome!

I work in a district that is lucky enough to have regular visits from Staff Developers who work for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Today, we had Heather Burns work with our sixth grade teachers for the entire day. When I arrived just before lunch, she was sharing the elements of the Question Formulation Techniques with the teachers. I have done a fair amount of work within this concept, and if you haven't visited The Right Question Institute's website, I highly recommend it. The book, Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana is truly one that changes practice. 

I have seen people use the QFT during reading, but not with the fidelity of the protocol and process that Heather used today. Before she went into the classroom to demonstrate for the teachers, she engaged them in the work. We had a short text that we all read, and then she shared the protocol of the QFT which as follows:

Step 1: Choose a focus
I have see the focus be an art object, a short video, or a picture. In today's case, the focus was a statement about the reading we were doing.

Step 2: Produce questions around that focus idea/statement
  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any question at this moment
  • Write down every question exactly as it was stated
  • Change any statements into questions.  
Heather produced a chart of the rules for the students to use.

Groups of students decided on one person to be the recorder.

Step 3: Improve questions
  • Analyze between open ended and close ended questions - go through their questions and write C for closed and O for open next to their questions. (Teacher gives definition of both)
  • Change at least one question from closed to open and open to closed.  
  • Make sure you have more open than closed questions.  

Step 4: Prioritize their questions
  • Choose three questions they most want to explore
The "best questions were shared and recorded

Step 5: Decide on next steps
  • Work together to decide how to use the questions - class conversation, think more deeply for book clubs, for writing, etc…

Step 6: Reflect on what they have learned

Because Heather had the teachers engage in doing the work that we were about to ask students to do, the teachers understood the work at a different level. It reminded me of asking teachers to do the writing they are teaching students to do. When we have tried out what we're teaching, when we've paid attention to the metacognitive processes the work involves, and when we reflect on the challenges of the tasks, we almost always teach it better.

If you haven't tried out the QFT, I recommend exploring the website. It's an important way to engage students in their own learning and remind them that curiosity is an important habit of mind in a world where information is so easily accessed. If nothing else, ask yourself about how you foster and nurture curiosity, wonder, and the asking of questions within your instruction.

Happy Slicing,


  1. ooooohhhh...this has captured my interest! Thank you for the links to explore. Sounds powerful.

  2. Thanks for sharing - I love that book, but do not know about the website. We will check it out!