Questions instructors should ask to promote student learning (opinion) (2023)

We often claim that we encourage our students to take risks in their writing, reaching beyond comfortable topics and habits to learn new perspectives and skills. We might encourage students to revise a piece of writing in order to think differently about a particular topic and even stress the difference between revision and editing.

What we frequently do not address, however, are the ways our learning environments can directly contradict our claims and encouragement. Critical thinking, reflection and the application of what one has learned seem to be everyone’s goals but not always everyone’s practice. To establish an environment that truly supports student learning, we should ask ourselves the following questions.

1. Do our students feel safe enough to take risks? Humans have evolved to avoid threatening situations. The paradox we face as teachers is this: the more comfortable we make students feel, the more they will embrace the discomfort of learning something new. The more we can ensure safety, the more they will take risks. Considering the extraordinary effort required not only to learn how to write but also to learn through writing, we need to cultivate an environment in which failure is natural, welcome and necessary.

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Success or failure are not individual products; rather, they are dependent on the social context. In other words, if a student struggles, a sociocultural explanation would not view the struggles as inherent within the student—instead, struggle emerges via the social interactions in which the student engaged. This difference is vitally important. Attributing struggle to the individual student assumes that the student will always struggle. A sociocultural attribution believes the student may not struggle if the environmental conditions are changed.

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Feedback can play a critical role in shifting students’ perspectives from fixed to shifting contexts. For instance, instead of focusing on what students did (right or wrong) in an assignment, feedback can call attention to what students can do in relation to the learning objectives: “Now that you successfully wrote a summary, you can synthesize multiple summaries into a review.” Some call this approach “feedforward,” because it keeps the perspective on what can be done next.

Feedback can also emphasize context by providing students with options for improvement rather than recommendations or prescriptions. Making them aware of the impact particular choices can have but ultimately leaving the choice with the student empowers them while also reminding them that there is no fixed answer.

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2. Do we assign failure as a natural part of revision and, ultimately, learning? Assignments need to be designed for students. Descriptions need to invite, not demand, student engagement, and invitations are most effective when they are encouraging and interesting. Remember the paradox: the more difficult the tasks, the more encouragement is needed.

The fixed mind-set, according to Carol Dweck, confuses performance with identity (“If I fail at writing, I must not be a writer”) and thus fixates on performance. No one wants to be a failure, a very different phenomenological experience than simply failing at something. Therefore, people with fixed mind-sets are more likely to worry about how their performances are recognized by others. On the other hand, because growth mind-sets separate performance from identity (“If I fail at writing, it doesn’t mean I’m not a writer”), it promotes the idea that potential can be cultivated through different means.

To encourage a growth mind-set, I don’t provide an ultradetailed assignment prompt that takes cognitive effort just to unpack; instead, I invite students into the design process and simply give them the objectives. I might say something like, “In this age of Twitter and TikTok, people want bite-size information. If we want our ideas to be considered, we need to be really good at summarizing.” After presenting the objective’s associated skills, students contextualize how they will apply those skills towards purposes that matter to them.

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For instance, one student might summarize a source or argument related to climate change to learn how a different discipline approaches the topic. Another student might summarize a text so that they can compare their experience to it. The goal of my courses is that students learn how to apply writing skills in various contexts, genres and domains—which requires an ability to transfer. More important than the prep time I save, collaborative design is both inclusive and more likely to promote growth mind-set thinking.

3. Do we intentionally respond to student work with the goals of affirming and challenging them? Let’s say, for example, that a student misuses a term in a paper. The teacher or a peer responds by writing the correct definition. In a later paper, the student writes the exact definition as the teacher or peer wrote it (or, these days, ChatGPT did). We can’t be confident that the student can correctly use the term unaided. If, on the other hand, the teacher or peer asked the student questions about their intentions with the term or provided options for how the student could use the term without providing an exact definition, the learner is aided while still retaining control of their learning.

In other words, the decision for how they use the term differently falls onto them. There is no standard, however. Humans have different experiences that have shaped different needs. What helps one student won’t help another. Instruction, therefore, needs to be relationship-rich and infused with care.

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Learning to write takes an extraordinary amount of effort. When interest is high, students are maximizing their effort. In our responses as instructors, we also need to remember that learning is exhausting, even when we are successful. It is especially exhausting when we aren’t successful. We need to validate effort and affirm any success there is, however small. This is worked into the assignment design process through scaffolding. Reflection, critical thinking and other “higher-order” skills are process-dependent, and we often skip the process by not letting our assignments play out over time. Imagine breaking up any assignment into multiple parts. At each part, students could receive feedback, self-assess and make needed changes before moving onto the next part.

4. Do students get a chance to digest, interpret and apply the feedback we provide? Breaking down the assignment into smaller chunks—for instance, demonstrating one skill at a time—gives students early moments of public success. If I am asking students to meet the objective of summarizing a text, I will start with something low-stakes that affirms they already have some skill meeting the objective. Maybe they give elevator pitches for their favorite films or create dating profiles for a fictional character. Then, when we transition to the actual assignment, I highlight the skills they playfully demonstrated as the starting point. I then walk them through phases of effective summary writing (“Step 1: identify the main idea of the text,” and so on) that they contextualize for their purposes.

Finally, on the days when I return students’ writing with my responses, I make it something of a ceremony. First, they verbally reflect on the process. They share challenges, successes and specific skills they used. Then we examine the objectives and whether students understand them as relevant for their individual purposes. Do students feel like they can accomplish their goals, whether it’s succeeding in their major or fighting climate change, because of the objectives they are attempting to meet? These reflective conversations prime students for interest in my responses, as opposed to grades, because they are encouraged to also read responses for growth.

Most of my students submit their writing on the learning management system and therefore would already have instant access to my responses. Still, I hold time in class to review what I told them, allow students to ask me any questions for clarification and organize my responses into a revision plan.

The result of this growth mind-set–by–design approach—of asking and answering the questions that I’ve outlined—is that students leave the classroom with a sense of agency. They have gained not only control of their next steps but also an understanding that those next steps matter.

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What questions should I ask for student feedback? ›

3. Encourage student reflection
  • What are two ways you contributed in class today?
  • What's one thing you did well in class today?
  • What is one thing you learned from our last assignment?
  • What did you learn about working with others today?
  • Explain how you helped another student with their learning today.

How do questions promote student learning? ›

Questions stimulate discussion and creative and critical thinking, as well as determine how students are thinking. Questions help students retain material by putting into words otherwise unarticulated thoughts.

What are good questions to ask students about their learning? ›

Here are 6 meaningful questions to ask students as they enter your classroom.
  • What's your greatest strength? ...
  • What will success look like for you? ...
  • What's your favorite activity to do outside of class? ...
  • Explain what strategies you use when the work in class is challenging? ...
  • Do you have a good working environment at home?

What are powerful feedback questions? ›

Customer feedback questions to improve your marketing efforts
  • Where did you first hear about us? ...
  • Have you used our [product or service] before? ...
  • Why did you choose to use our [product or service] over other options? ...
  • Have you used a similar [product or service] before? ...
  • How do you use our product/service?

What are the three questions to ask for feedback? ›

The questions are:
  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I keep doing?
  • What should I start doing?
Aug 4, 2011

What type of questions promote thinking skills in students? ›

Personal resonse or open ended questions promote thinking skills in children.

How do you promote student learning? ›

Implementation Ideas:
  1. Ask students to share information about each other's backgrounds and academic interests.
  2. Encourage students to prepare together for classes or exams.
  3. Create study groups within your course.
  4. Ask students to give constructive feedback on each other's work and to explain difficult ideas to each other.

What are effective questions? ›

Effective questioning involves using questions in the classroom to open conversations, inspire deeper intellectual thought, and promote student-to-student interaction. Effective questions focus on eliciting the process, i.e. the 'how' and 'why,' in a student's response, as opposed to answers which just detail 'what.

What are key learning questions? ›

A 'key learning question' is simply a way of framing the learning in a lesson or across a sequence of lessons – of setting the learning agenda for pupils.

What is an example of a learning question? ›

Example Student Learning Questions. How are students working together to develop consensus/understanding? What is the evidence that students are using their roles to dig deeper into the text/topic? How did students demonstrate collaboration in their groups?

What are the 5 powerful questions? ›

5 Powerful Questions Every People Manager Needs to Know and Use
  • What do you think? Not rocket science is it? ...
  • What makes you think this? ...
  • Can you tell me more? ...
  • How can I support you with this? ...
  • What do you think are the next steps?

What is the question and answer strategy in teaching? ›

The question-answer relationship (QAR) comprehension strategy teaches students how to ask key questions about their reading, and then how to find the answers to their questions — whether it means locating a specific fact, drawing an inference, or connecting the reading to their own experience.

What are the 4 C's of feedback? ›

Of course, the 4 C's developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning are communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking (I'll add a 5th C at the end). Take some time to read the feedback and think to yourself whether it could be directed at you.

Which are the 7 keys to effective feedback? ›

In this short article, author and former teacher Grant Wiggins says that helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.

What are the 3 simple but powerful techniques for giving effective feedback? ›

The DESC feedback technique - describe, express, specify, consequences - is a simple and powerful way to express to an individual what you would like them to do more, less, or differently to enhance their performance and maximise their effectiveness.

What are the three C's of feedback? ›

UNC Professor Elad Sherf recommends using the framework of the three Cs — Clarity, Contextual Meaning, and Composure — as a guide for turning every performance review into an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and help employees achieve lasting growth, learning, and improvement.

What are the questions about providing feedback? ›

Here are six questions to ask yourself before the next time you give feedback:
  • What Are They Asking? ...
  • Am I the Best Person to Give This Feedback? ...
  • What Is My Most Important Observation? ...
  • What Is My Motivation? ...
  • What Might Be the Result of My Silence? ...
  • Am I Willing to Deal With the Consequences?

What are the 7 critical thinking questions skills? ›

15 Questions to Encourage Critical Thinking
  • How Do You Know This? ...
  • How Would Your Perspective Be Different If You Were on the Opposing Side? ...
  • How Would You Solve This Problem? ...
  • Do You Agree or Disagree — and Why? ...
  • Why? ...
  • How Could We Avoid This Problem in the Future? ...
  • Why Does It Matter?

What are the six critical thinking questions to ask? ›

You can use the learning cycle and the six questions (5W + 1H system) to trigger your critical thinking. Think about the six questions: What, Who, When, Where, Why, and How, as demonstrated in the table below.

What can teachers do to promote learning? ›

By Kasia Piotrowska
  • Are you looking for ways to get learners actively involved in the classroom? ...
  • Give learners clear lesson aims and refer to them at each stage.
  • Give learners tools to follow the lesson aims.
  • Make room for learners to reflect on the lesson.
  • Teachers don't have to stick to their plan.
Oct 30, 2017

How can teachers promote or maximize student learning? ›

Maximise student learning by making the most of the time you have with them. Make the most of all the time you have with your students and show that you value their time by being prepared with tasks, resources and work that is meaningful and relevant. Don't waste time on trivial activities, busy work and fillers.

How do teachers encourage students to learn? ›

Positive Outcomes

Give verbal praise for successful progress or accomplishment. Give personal attention to students. Provide informative, helpful feedback when it is immediately useful. Provide motivating feedback (praise) immediately following task performance.

What are the 4 essential questions? ›

Popularized by Rick DuFour, the four critical questions of a PLC include:
  • What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
  • How will we know if they learn it?
  • How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  • How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
Aug 22, 2018

What are the 5 types of questions ask? ›

  • Yes/No Questions.
  • Wh Questions.
  • Indirect Questions.
  • Tag Questions.
  • Negative Questions for Confirmation.
Nov 5, 2022

What are 5 types of productive questions? ›

The different types of productive questions listed in her article include attention focusing, measuring and counting, comparison, action, problem posing, and reasoning (Martens, 1999).

What are the 6 types of productive questions? ›

The six types of productive questions—attention-focusing, measuring and counting, comparison, action, problem-posing, and reasoning—enable teachers to create a bridge between activities and students.

What are teacher led questions? ›

Questioning for assessment is teacher-led. It helps you obtain evidence about where pupils are in their learning. This information about pupil knowledge, understanding and skills can then inform planning and the selection of teaching strategies to move pupils from where they are to where they need to go.

How do you ask questions to improve learning? ›

Ask open-ended questions.

Avoid asking leading questions, those that prompt or suggest the answer, and yes/no questions. If a yes/no question is warranted, be ready with a follow-up question to encourage students to critically evaluate the material and engage in discussion.

What are the five active learning methods? ›

5 Types of Active Learning and How They're Beneficial
  • Take Notes.
  • Write About It.
  • Teach Someone Else.
  • Move Around.
  • Take Breaks.
  • Learning for Life.
Nov 8, 2021

What are the 3 big questions? ›

The Three Big Questions strategy challenges readers to annotate in the margins by marking passages that answer the questions: "What surprised me?", "What did the author think I already knew?", and "What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I already knew?".

What questions should I ask for peer feedback? ›

Peer feedback questions
  • What do I do well now, and what can I improve on in the future?
  • Do you think I interact enough with my team members?
  • How can I better support you in your work?
  • What skills can I improve to be a better employee?
  • Can you provide a specific example of an area in which I excel?
Sep 19, 2022

What should be included in student feedback? ›

When giving students feedback, keep these tips in mind:
  • Praise their efforts, not their talents. ...
  • Mistakes and errors don't need to feel negative. ...
  • Be specific. ...
  • Explain feedback wherever possible. ...
  • Start with a clear goal. ...
  • Keep it timely. ...
  • Feedback isn't just for finished work. ...
  • Give feedback one-on-one.
Oct 18, 2021

What questions should I ask for feedback session interview? ›

Open interview feedback survey questions
  • Overall, how satisfied are you with our recruiting and hiring process? ...
  • Would you recommend [company name] to other friends to apply? ...
  • Was the recruiter helpful throughout the who process?
  • How can we, in your opinion, improve our hiring process?


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