With recent changes to standardized assessments and newly adopted standards, teachers are working hard to ensure that activities and assignments are sufficiently rigorous.
One way to increase classroom rigor is in lesson planning. While textbooks suggest questions and prompts, they may not require students to use higher-order thinking, critical reasoning, or provide evidence that goes beyond the original source. It’s up to teachers to consider the balance of varied level questions that they will ask.
It’s not that different from the way people should approach rigorous physical exercise; students need a warm-up to avoid pulling a “thinking muscle.” More literal questions—at the comprehension level—help to guide and prepare students for questions that will require deeper thinking. Although teachers shouldn’t abandon lower level questions, they need to envision a path that swiftly moves students toward questions that require higher-level thinking.
Higher-level questions involve the type of cognition that we see in Design Questions 3 and 4 of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model—analysis and knowledge utilization. At these levels, students must classify, specify, analyze, match, generalize, experiment, investigate, make decisions, and problem solve. They must use inductive and deductive reasoning as they draw conclusions and make inferences that allow them to test hypotheses and deepen their understanding.
Dr. Marzano has identified four types of questions: detail, category, elaborating, and evidence. Each can be tailored to provide students with support or to require more complex thinking.
1) Detail Questions: Asking questions about important details.
With detail questions, teachers are likely to be using instructional strategies in Design Question 2, where students must demonstrate their understanding of what is being taught or has been taught.
- The level of cognition tends to be retrieval or basic comprehension.
- Answers are supported with basic details from the text or lesson.
- Questions start with words like what, where, which, how many, or when.
2) Category Questions: Asking students to identify examples.
Students describe general characteristics or compare and contrast. These questions often engage students in examining similarities and differences, but if they’re not quite ready for higher-level thinking, teachers can modify to keep questions at the comprehension level.
Students describe what they see in one area and identify how it is different or similar in another area. For example, the teacher may ask students to describe and compare what they saw on the slide with the animal cell with what they saw on the slide with the plant cell.
To work in higher complexity, students must identify the difference and assign weight to it using evidence, which requires deeper thinking.
- What do you believe is the most significant difference?
- What evidence do you have to support that conclusion?
3) Elaborating Questions: require students to make inferences.
Students integrate the new content with their prior knowledge to explain a reason for something. To increase the level of rigor, a teacher may require students to draw a conclusion and support it with evidence. For example, the teacher may ask, “How might this situation have been different if Event A had occurred before Event B?”
Here, students must explain why or answer the question what if. These questions have the potential for increased rigor by allowing the students to speculate and make projections.
4) Evidence Questions: identify sources and examine reasoning.
These can be a natural extension of the other question types. Students identify sources that support their elaborations or that examine their reasoning. To encourage deeper thinking and to rule out more basic explanations, the teacher may restrict the conclusions that students are permitted to draw. They may ask students to:
- Discuss an accurate response or an error that was made
- Consider different perspectives
- Consider possibilities that may have changed the outcome
Students need exposure to all four types of questions in order to integrate the new content and deepen their understanding of it. Some questioning types may seem like a better fit for certain subject areas, but each of them can and should be used in all subject areas.
Want to deepen your knowledge of these instructional strategies? Check out our award-winning Essentials for Achieving Rigor book series!
Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. (Paul and Elder, 2001). The Paul-Elder framework has three components:
- The elements of thought (reasoning)
- The intellectual standards that should be applied to the elements of reasoning
- The intellectual traits associated with a cultivated critical thinker that result from the consistent and disciplined application of the intellectual standards to the elements of thought
According to Paul and Elder (1997), there are two essential dimensions of thinking that students need to master in order to learn how to upgrade their thinking. They need to be able to identify the "parts" of their thinking, and they need to be able to assess their use of these parts of thinking.
Elements of Thought (reasoning)
The "parts" or elements of thinking are as follows:
- All reasoning has a purpose
- All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve some problem
- All reasoning is based on assumptions
- All reasoning is done from some point of view
- All reasoning is based on data, information and evidence
- All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, concepts and ideas
- All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data
- All reasoning leads somewhere or has implications and consequences
Universal Intellectual Standards
The intellectual standards that are to these elements are used to determine the quality of reasoning. Good critical thinking requires having a command of these standards. According to Paul and Elder (1997 ,2006), the ultimate goal is for the standards of reasoning to become infused in all thinking so as to become the guide to better and better reasoning. The intellectual standards include:
- Could you elaborate?
- Could you illustrate what you mean?
- Could you give me an example?
- How could we check on that?
- How could we find out if that is true?
- How could we verify or test that?
- Could you be more specific?
- Could you give me more details?
- Could you be more exact?
- How does that relate to the problem?
- How does that bear on the question?
- How does that help us with the issue?
- What factors make this difficult?
- What are some of the complexities of this question?
- What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?
- Do we need to look at this from another perspective?
- Do we need to consider another point of view?
- Do we need to look at this in other ways?
- Does all of this make sense together?
- Does your first paragraph fit in with your last one?
- Does what you say follow from the evidence?
- Is this the most important problem to consider?
- Is this the central idea to focus on?
- Which of these facts are most important?
- Is my thinking justifiable in context?
- Am I taking into account the thinking of others?
- Is my purpose fair given the situation?
- Am I using my concepts in keeping with educated usage, or am I distorting them to get what I want?
Consistent application of the standards of thinking to the elements of thinking result in the development of intellectual traits of:
- Intellectual Humility
- Intellectual Courage
- Intellectual Empathy
- Intellectual Autonomy
- Intellectual Integrity
- Intellectual Perseverance
- Confidence in Reason
Characteristics of a Well-Cultivated Critical Thinker
Habitual utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated critical thinker who is able to:
- Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
- Gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
- Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
- Think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
- Communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems
Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.