Art of Questioning reflection – #NspiredatT3

My previous post shared the lesson plan for our 4 hour Art of Questioning session at T³. I want to share what actually happened, my reflections and what I learned.

We used Skype so that Grant Lichtman could join us and present with us.  I LOVED doing this.  Grant and I did this the day before in a shorter session for T³ instructors.

I did a better job (I hope) introducing Grant by reading from Step 1 – Art of Questioning of his book The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

Our educational systems have been constructed entirely around the goal of providing the correct answer to a question provided by an instructor or handed out on a standardized exam.  This system provides a form of valid comparison for the results of a group of students, and it provides a foundation of shared information amongst those who have followed a course of study.  Unfortunately, the real world, particularly the real world of the coming century, does not and will not work this way.  Our heroes are not defined by how well they answered canned questions or what they scored on their SATs precisely because these outcomes do not determine success in real-world situations.  The real revolution in education and training, if it comes, will be overtly switching our priority from the skills of giving answers to the skills of finding new questions.

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom.  Each question leads to one or more new questions or answers.  Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere.  Questions are never dead ends.  Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime. (Lichtman, 35 pag.)

Grant told two powerful stories of leveraging learner questions to facilitate learning. He made the great point that if you teach from student questions, you know someone in the room is interested in what is being discussed.

Then it got seriously interesting for us.  Grant facilitated an experience of questioning techniques while I drove a lesson (shown below) on the TI-Nspire.

Want to explore the investigation? Here’s how:  Clicking on the screenshot should enable you to download the TI-Nspire document and open it if you have the TI-Nspire software on your computer.  Clicking on the Launch Player button should open a player file where you can interact with the document without having TI-Nspire software. (Be patient; it is a little slow to launch.)

Grant reviewed the “big 6” types of questions and transitioned to another type of question – “What if”.  Here’s what the exercise looked like when I finished following his directions.  Remember, he could not see the linear investigation, and I could not see him.


Grant then signed off so that we could roll up our sleeve and get to work experiencing learning through the art of questioning.  I opened the next section of this lesson by reading from Step 0: Preparation of The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

The excitement of learning, the compelling personal drive to take one more step on the path towards wisdom, comes when we try to solve a problem we want to solve, when we want to solve, when we see a challenge and say yes, I can meet it.  Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves. They provide us just enough insight so we can work toward a solution that makes us, makes me want to jump up and shout out the solution to the world, makes me want to step to the next higher level. Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome. (Lichtman, 20 pag.)

Wow! Worth repeating:

Great teachers lead us just far enough down a path so we can challenge for ourselves.

So, how do we do this?  Sam accepted the challenge of modeling this type of facilitation of learning by leading a lesson.  We wanted the participants to experience the investigation, question generation, and learning. Sam chose to use the EllipseInvest.tns file show below.


Sam employed the 3-12-3 protocol:

      • 3 minutes: Independent investigation of the EllipseInvest.TNS file.
      • 12 minutes: Work with a partner to share questions, convert closed questions to open questions, and generate additional questions. Partners should identify their top 2-3 questions.
      • 3 minutes: Use the TI-Nspire Navigator to collect each student’s top question.

Facilitate a class discussion by responding to student questions encouraging responses from students as well as the teacher.

It was awesome!  Sam knew that he was going to administer a formative assessment next.  As his peer observer, I could see his effort and questioning to guide the discussion through the participant questions to the essential outcomes of the lesson. Another point from The Falconer that is worth repeating:

Great teachers somehow make us want to ask the questions that they want us to answer, overcome the challenge that they, because they are our teacher, believe we need to overcome.

Sam then used EllipseForm.tns to model the leveled formative assessment idea.


Experientially, our participants could make their own determination of the value of this type of formative assessment.  Continuing his questioning technique, Sam prompted the participants to identify why the questions were at the given level.  Could they see a leveling up in the questions?  What did it take to move from one level to another?  The discussion was excellent, and Sam received strong feedback about his assessment design.  Yay!

We were at about the 2-hour mark in our 4 hour workshop.  I asked our participants if they could stand a 4-minute Ignite talk on assessment to set the stage for the next 2 hours of work and then we would take a break.

We resumed after the break by watching Dan Heath: How to Find Bright Spots.

Leveled assessments provide the opportunity to bright spot the work of every learner.  They come in the door saying I can do this, Ms. Gough; will you help me level up? Let’s take the challenge of highlighting what learners can do rather than what they cannot.

For the next hour, Sam and I watched, listened, and coached as participants worked to designed a leveled assessment on a topic of their choosing.  We displayed an example through the projector as a point of reference. Our participants asked for the template of the table of specifications.  All files linked on my previous post are .pdfs.  The table of specifications as a Word doc is shared below.

How great that our participants asked for a usable resource! Learn and share!

I was so pleased with the engagement and the collaboration of our participants.  There were so many good questions.  I challenged our participants to share their ideas – in any form by dropping their files in my Dropbox.  I’ve promised to zip all files shared in my Dropbox by Tuesday and share this on this post.

This morning I noticed this tweet…

Screen Shot 2013-03-09 at 7.58.27 PM

I love having this type of feedback!


Lichtman, Grant, and Sunzi. The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. New York: IUniverse, 2008. Print.


  1. Jill, I thoroughly enjoyed your session at T3. FYI I tried your questioning techniques yesterday in my Algebra classes as a way of introducing the new chapter. Kids were quite open to it but really wanted me to define what I wanted from them. I stuck to my guns and made them just browse the chapter and come up with questions. A question I have is: How do you guide them to as mathematical questions instead of looking at the pictures and asking about them (I know some pictures can be great places to ask questions, but our book in particular had a picture of a cartoon dog with a turtle on its back and the overwhelming question was: What if the turtle fell off and got run over by a car?) Also, the book introduces the definition of functions by talking about code breaking and cryptography and the students’ questions focused on: What if I dont know how to break codes.


  2. Jessica,
    Thank you for the feedback! It is so exciting to hear that you have tried what we learned at T3. Brava for sticking to your guns and persisting in expecting questions. It is important to remember that history and habit tells our young learners that we will tell them everything they need to know. It can be a sharp transition to asking your own questions.

    You ask:
    A question I have is: How do you guide them to as mathematical questions instead of looking at the pictures and asking about them?

    I think this is where the art of questioning come alive! I suggest asking them questions in response to their questions. While I’ve not seen your book and I wasn’t in class, I might suggest some of the following questions in response to What if the turtle fell off and got run over by a car?

    • What if the car was not moving?
    • What if the car was going forward?
    • What if the turtle was on the hood of the car?… the trunk of the car?…the roof of the car?
    • What if we graphed the distance vs. time of the car? How would it compare to a graph of the distance vs. time graph of the turtle?

    I LOVE the question What if I don’t know how to break codes?

    • What if we learn together?
    • Why is important to learn to break codes?
    • What math do you need to encode and decode?

    As with all new learning, we have to practice. You and they will get better the more you practice. I love what Sam modeled in the 4-hour session. He’d already made is leveled assessment, so he knew the kinds of questions he needed to ask to facilitate (steer) learning.

    Keep up the good work! And, thanks for sharing!


    • Jill, great news, I have been using what if questions for the past week and a half, and drafted leveled assessments all based on your inspiration. I gave an assessment today, and instead of the normal 73%on assessments, today the average was a whopping 84%. I think the kids will be excited with themselves!


      • Jessica! This is GREAT!!

        Thank you so much for sticking with it and having faith in your kids that they would learn. And, THANK YOU for sharing assessment results to offer evidence that this is making a difference.


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