Why are you questioning me?

This is the thought that runs through my 1750+ students minds each day as their teachers push them to dig deeper through the line of questioning thrown their direction.

Rigor. Probably one of the most overused terms in the educational arena.

You see, when people talk about rigor in the classroom they often fail to define it. To me it is simple. Rigor can be defined as effective teaching and learning. In my building it means the type of teaching and learning that makes the student’s brains hurt. I want to share with you, as I did with my faculty this past week that getting there – getting to this place of terrorizing student brains – is not that difficult.

It begins with questions.

  • What does an effective question look like?
  • How does an open-ended question have a greater impact on rigor?
  • Why do both the follow-up and persistence of the questions you ask matter?

What Does an Effective Question Look Like?

It is about the hook.


Take this image from Tiananmen Square, for example. Put this up for students to view and you can begin to dig deep on several elements in the photography – I could ask about the people, the setting, the engagement, etc… The more provocative the image – the better questions you can build.

Some questions I might ask:

  • What is happening in this image?
  • Why do you think someone might do something like you see here?
  • What do you think happens next?
  • If you were there, what do you think you would have seen or heard?
  • Is there anything in your lives that you would stand up for to this degree?

You can lead the students exactly where you want them to go with the line of questioning you ask. This can be done in any subject area as well. I might show an Ebola ravaged village when questioning about cell reproduction in Biology; I might show a Matthew Brady image from the Civil War when directing the Emancipation Proclamation in English; I might show any one of Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Math images in Mathematics.

How Does an Open-Ended Question Have a Greater Impact on Rigor?

Open-ended questions allow us to open up the conversation in the classroom. Sticking with my Tiananmen Square image… lets look at these two questions.

  1. Is the subject of the photo standing up for something?
  2. What are some reasons that you think might make a human being stand in front of an armored tank?

Q1 is simple. The most common answer – Yes. You may get something a little more – but the conversation and answers are likely to be low level and lead to nowheresville.

Q2 will take you to great new heights. Students are going to engage in answers that are going to lead to new questions about the topic. This is the sign that you are asking the right questions and taking students to deeper levels.

Why Do Both the Follow-Up and Persistence of the Questions You Ask Matter?

Do not let students off the hook. When questioning in the classroom – make a habit of asking follow-ups. This is especially true of students that often give the “I don’t know”. Come back to your “I don’t know” students often with follow-ups.

Persistence. Letting students know that they will not ever be let off the hook is essential. Persist with your students – especially those whom are hesitant of answering. Building a culture of comfort and safety when answering questions will also help. If students know that when they enter your classroom that you are persistent – they will be on their toes.

Try these simple strategies when questioning students in your classrooms. I promise that it will push your conversations deeper into content and take students to higher levels of thinking.

Go ahead, make their brains hurt.

Mike Meechin, M.Ed.

For more information about having Mike speak at your school or district, click the “Book Mike” link under Work With Me.