Scaffolding Question Building in an Innovation Landscape

Training of the Mind
Training of the Mind

When I first started exploring questioning in some detail was when I was hired to support teacher in the Winnipeg School division with the Inquiry process embedded in the LwICT Continuum. That was in 2007 and my understanding of developing question with student has evolved somewhat over the years since. I thought I might share this evolution with you in this post entitled Scaffolding Question Building.

At first, I relied heavily on Manitoba documentation that went along with the Literacy with Internet Communication Technology Continuum documentation that the province provided online. Blooms taxonomy was one of the theories used to ground this continuum and was, in fact, used heavily in terms of framing the questioning section of the process. This seemed a logical starting place.

Blooms Revised
Blooms Revised

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of thinking organized by level of complexity. It gives teachers and students an opportunity to learn and practice a range of thinking and provides a simple structure for many different kinds of questions and thinking. The taxonomy involves all categories of questions. Lower level questions are those at the remembering, understanding and lower level application levels of the taxonomy.

Usually questions at the lower levels are appropriate for:

  • Reviewing and/or summarizing content
  • Scaffolding to higher level questions

Higher level questions are those requiring complex application, analysis, evaluation or creation skills.

Questions at higher levels of the taxonomy are usually most appropriate for:

  • Encouraging students to think more deeply and critically
  • Problem solving
  • Encouraging discussions
  • Stimulating students to seek information on their own
  • Create new meaning

In the early days, I spent a lot of time developing activities that aligned with helping students develop question at each level of blooms. I modelled many of the activities after the ones found in the books Q-Tasks Edition 1 & Q-Tasks Edition 2:

Koechlin, Carol, and Sandi Zwaan. Q Tasks: How to Empower Students to Ask Questions and Care about Answers. Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006. Print
The focus was generally placed on using question WORDs to format questions: who, what, where, when, why, & how…

Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How
Question Words: Who, What, Where, When, Why & How

This was a very prescribed approach that worked well for teachers starting out. Together, we spent a lot of time dissecting questions, trying to help teachers and students understand how questions were constructed and how to get students to come up with better questions. Things were working, but teachers needed more helping understanding how deep questions are created. My colleagues and I tried another resource on questions:

McKenzie, Jamieson A. Learning to Question – to Wonder – to Learn. Bellingham, WA: FNO, 2005. Print

This was an overwhelming book all about question types. Too much information as it turned out, but a valuable reference in small doses. It gave teachers some back ground, but was fitting the bellman terms of getting the results we were hoping for in terms of question generation from students within their inquiries. We needed something different.

Applying some of what we know of Anne Davies about regarding setting criteria, that’s when we hit upon a question creation process that seemed to help.

Gregory, Kathleen, Caren Cameron, and Anne Davies. Setting and Using Criteria: For Use in Middle and Secondary School Classrooms. Merville, B.C.: Connections Pub., 1997. Print.

The process went something like this…

Question Process
Question Process

We discovered, not surprisingly, that our criteria for both types of questions changed or needed modification as we encountered diverse examples of & talked about the intent behind more and more questions. We kept adding to or adapting the criteria that we had previously set. To give you an idea of the kind of criteria that has been created by teachers in past inservices, have a look at the lines of the quoted text snippet below:

A deep question leads to the seeking of personal understanding, could have many different answers, inspires more questions and conversations, can be answered in many ways, is motivating, and leads to ownership of the learning process. Deeper question lead to answers that are often created, not “found” in books or other resources. (living draft)

One clever teacher at Lord Roberts school came up with a way of visualizing how this might look.

Visualizing Deep Questions
Visualizing Deep Questions

It was vitally important to us not to dismiss scaffolding questions to only focus on deeper questions, however. While answers to scaffolding questions are often fact-based, easy found online on in other effortlessly accessible resources like books and the like, they are critical in providing base information for answering, exploring, exposing deeper questions. They often led the way on an inquiry journey guided by deeper, critical questions and ultimately deeper thinking & exploration.

And this is where we have left things for the most part.

As of late, the Division has shifted it’s priorities towards innovation, Maker Spaces and STEAM focussed education. Arguably this is not necessarily a huge departure from a creationist, inquiry focused, question driven philosophy; rather, it seems a nature evolution.

This got me thinking about the status of the questioning process we have in place and whether it needed tweaking as well. Does it help teacher and students in an innovation, maker space, or STEAM setting? I am reasonable certain that in STEAM/Maker Space classroom the process, given time, will work. After all, an inquiry class and a STEAM class are really not that dissimilar. But how does it apply to an innovative school for example.

I kept searching online for inspiration, for something new. I found lots of innovation questions or prompts:

  • What could I look at in a new way?
  • What could I use in a new way?
  • What could I recontextualize in space or time?
  • What could I connect in a new way?
  • What could I change, in terms of design or performance?
  • What could I create that is truly new?

It would seem that question creation remains a process of exploration, a process of discovery, a process of creation. One thing did occur to me as I thought about Blooms , questions, innovation and the maker movement and that was word CREATION. It might be time to invert Blooms and thing of Creation first out of the box….

Blooms Flipped
Blooms Flipped

Perhaps we need to think about making question the same way we go about making meaning.

We explore artifacts, we discuss, we think, we share, we collaborate, we muck about and get messy, we sort and categorize, we set criteria and check against that criteria to see that we’re on track…

Albert Einstein once said,

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

That perhaps is the right idea.


I just went on Twitter and came across this Tweet from my colleague Shauna Cornwall stressing the importance of two simple question frames to be used regularly even in primary classrooms. It’s never too early too start!

Such important questions to “frame” all that you do with your gr2 Ss @smacpenner #winnipegSD

What and Why?
What and Why?
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