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  • 2 2 Januar y 2005s c i e n c e s c o p e

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    I from students that reveals the state of the students’ un- derstanding. Next, the teacher recognizes the response by reflecting it back to the student or asking another follow- up question. The third step involves taking some form of action to help the student move toward the essence of the activity or concept. The process can be thought of as a cycle to reflect the ongoing nature of informative ques- tioning throughout inquiry activities.

    Setting and aligning learning goals Science inquiry units, like all other instruction, should have an ultimate goal to focus daily activities. Conversely, each daily activity should contribute in some way to reaching the

    Erin Marie Furtak is a research assistant in the School of Education at Stanford University in Stanford, California. Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo is a senior research scholar in the School of Education at Stanford Uni- versity in Stanford, California.

    by Erin Marie Furtak and Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo

    QUESTIONING CYCLE: Making students’thinking explicit duringscientific inquiry

    nquiry learning is an excellent way for students to get actively involved in science. It is essential that while inquiry learning is in progress, teachers continuously elicit students’ conceptions and take action to move

    students toward learning goals (Black and Wiliam 1998; Bell and Cowie 2001; Duschl 2003).

    The informative questioning cycle During inquiry activities, teachers need to ensure their students are making progress toward learning goals. The informative questioning cycle can help teachers and stu- dents achieve these goals through simple techniques that can redirect and improve the quality of students’ learn- ing while it is in progress. The informative questioning cycle assists the teacher in making students’ thinking ex- plicit so the teacher can help students develop deeper understanding. The teacher begins by eliciting a response

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    ultimate goal. The goals for an activity can consist of learning about a concept, such as density, or developing a process skill, such as using a balance or construct- ing a graph properly.

    A useful analogy for think- ing about daily activity goals is the preparation of food. Differ- ent ingredients are combined together because of their indi- vidual flavors, and the flavors of these ingredients together create the taste of the dish. Similarly, each activity in an inquiry unit must have an es- sence that, when combined with those from other activi- ties, contributes to the ultimate instructional goal.

    To determine what the essence of an activity might be, a teacher may ask: What will students need to know and be able to do at the end of the unit? What are the concepts and skills students need to acquire dur- ing each of the activities to reach the goal? If a certain activity does not contribute to the ultimate goal, the teacher should question why it is being included. While com- petencies that satisfy the criteria for the ultimate goal are not de- veloped in a single activity, the contribution of each activity to- ward the ultimate goal should be clearly understood for each class- room activity.

    Eliciting student responses Eliciting questions serve the pur- pose of drawing out what students know and are able to do, and to help them learn how to share this information in an inquiry activ- ity. Although teachers already use questions of this style, we suggest their purpose be changed to in- crease their informative potential. Asking students to provide evi- dence for an explanation, to share

    FIGURE 1 Suggested questions for the eliciting stage of the informative questioning cycle

    Provide evidence

    Formulate explanations

    Evaluate the quality of evidence

    Interpret data or patterns

    Compare/contrast others’ ideas

    Share observations


    Take votes on ideas

    Share everyday experiences

    Use/apply known procedures

    Share predictions

    Define concept(s)

    What evidence do you have for your statement?

    How do you explain the trend you see in the data?

    Based upon the methods you used, tell me what you

    think about the evidence you collected.

    What does this pattern mean about the question you were asking?

    How is your idea different from Joe’s idea?

    What did you observe as you were completing the activity?

    What do you mean when you say that?

    How many of you agree with this idea?

    Have any of you encountered a similar phenomenon

    at home?

    How do you draw a best-fit line?

    What do you think will happen to the depth of sinking

    if I add more mass to this carton?

    What do you think this word means?

    Types of eliciting questions Ask students to:


    FIGURE 2 Suggested responses for the recognizing stage of the informative questioning cycle

    Incorporates student’s comments into the

    ongoing classroom conversation

    Explores student’s ideas

    Captures/displays student’s responses

    Clarifies/elaborates based upon student’s responses

    Takes vote to acknowledge student’s ideas

    Repeats or paraphrases student’s words

    Carlos is referring back to our discussion

    a few days ago, when we talked about how things sink when their density is greater than the medium.

    Alice, you suggested that the liquid looks very thick, so I’m going to pour it into this container so you can all see what she means.

    [Writes down students’ responses on the board or easel for future discussion, comparing explanations, etc.]

    You said things sink because they are heavy, but what are some heavy things that do not sink?

    How many of the rest of you agree with Blake?

    You said the rock will sink because it has a greater density than the water?

    Type of recognizing question or statement Teacher:


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    predictions based upon previous experiences, and to describe patterns in their data are all ways that the teacher can elicit students’ thinking. Figure 1 includes a list of eliciting ques- tions. Teachers should use the list as a source of suggestions, tailoring the questions to fit their own activities.

    Eliciting questions may be used at any point in a lesson. For example, the teacher may use eliciting questions to de- termine students’ prior knowledge when introducing a new activity, or to focus class discussion around an important concept at the conclusion of an investigation. In some cases the teacher may choose to develop eliciting questions in advance by writing them into a lesson plan. At other times, such as when the students are collecting data, the eliciting questions may be more spontaneous and responsive to what the students are doing at a given time.

    Recognizing student responses Once teachers have successfully elicited students’ responses, they can acknowledge what the student has said in some way. Recognizing students’ responses makes clear the stu- dents’ contribution during whole class conversations or small group work and allows students to agree or disagree with what the teacher or other students have said. It should go beyond repeating students’ words verbatim; rather, teach- ers should incorporate the student’s comment into the on- going classroom discussion (O’Connor and Michaels 1993), or rephrase the comment so that the student can acknowl-

    edge or take credit for their response (van Zee and Minstrell 1997). Note that this step in the cycle in- volves not only questions, but also statements the teacher can make in re- sponse to a student com- ment. Figure 2 lists these and several other types of recog- nizing responses.

    In some cases, the student’s response will be un- clear or incomplete. After recognizing the response, the teacher should return to the first step in the cycle and ask the student another question to elicit further information, such as asking the student to elaborate on a previous re- sponse, which will allow the teacher to continue the cycle in a more informed manner

    to help the student progress toward the ultimate learning goal of the activity.

    Acting on student responses Because one of the goals of informative questioning is to con- tinually move students toward ultimate learning goals, the third part of the cycle, acting, involves using students’ responses as an opportunity to advance student learning based upon infor- mation attained in the previous two steps. In our research, it is this final step that we found to be most powerful in terms of student performance on different types of assessments because it leads students to learn the essence of the activity, which is necessary for them to reach the ultimate goal.

    For example, if conflicting responses have been elic- ited from