Use Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to turn art wonderings into research questions
The ability to produce questions, improve questions and prioritize questions may be one of the most important—yet too often overlooked—skills that a student can acquire in their formal education. Strong critical thinking is often grounded in the questions we ask. By deliberately teaching questioning skills, we will be facilitating a process that will help students develop a mental muscle necessary for deeper learning, creativity and innovation, analysis, and problem solving.
— The Right Question Institute: A Catalyst for Microdemocracy
After your art analysis and discussion you should have anchor charts full of observations and wonderings. The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) can help turn these into inquiry-based research questions that build on student insights and interests. Let’s use Ben Shahn’s Allegory as a model.
The development of these questioning skills and behaviors empowers the learners to conceptualize and express their thinking without having to depend primarily on teacher questioning to provoke or promote their natural curiosities.
— Elves, D. (2013). Questioning student questioning: Helping primary students begin to take more responsibility within the inquiry cycle. Page 2.
The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:
- Design a question focus.
- Produce questions.
- Categorize closed-ended and open-ended questions.
- Prioritize questions.
- Plan next steps.
Step 1: Design a question focus.
This is a simple statement or visual to help students generate questions. The work of art serves this purpose and the analysis and discussion has gotten the ball rolling. Now harvest the observations and wonderings the class already has.
Step 2: Produce questions.
Divide students into groups of 3–5. Have each group identify a note-taker and a way to record thinking. Display the anchor charts used to record observations and wonderings. Highlight and post these rules for producing questions.
- Ask as many questions as you can.
- Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
- Write down every question exactly as it is stated.
- Change statements/observations into questions.
Have the teams produce as many questions as they can in an allotted amount of time. They should think freely and not worry about the quality of the question at this step. They can reuse wonderings from the anchor charts and add more. Have students number their questions. For example:
- Who is James Hickman?
- What happened to his family?
- Why did the Hickman house fire merit a magazine article?
- Did racism play a role in this fire and the investigation?
- Did someone start the fire?
- Was anyone arrested?
- What happened in the trial?
- What is an allegory?
- What does this painting symbolize?
Step 3: Categorize closed-ended and open-ended questions.
Explain that closed-ended questions can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and that opened-ended questions require more elaborate answers. Then, to build appreciation for these different types of questions have students complete the following activity.
- Have students mark the closed-ended questions with a c.
- Have students mark the opened-ended questions with an o.
- Have students explain the advantages and disadvantages of closed-ended questions.
- Have students explain the advantages and disadvantages of opened-ended questions.
- To have students examine questions from different angles have students practice changing from one type of question to the other. For example, Did someone start the fire? Why did someone start the fire?
Step 4: Prioritize questions.
Review your list of questions and identify three open-ended questions you want to research and answer. Set parameters but don’t be overly prescriptive. Discuss the criteria each team used to make their selection. Note where on the list the top priority questions appear (beginning, middle, or end). Students will likely notice that the priority questions come from different places on the list. This will affirm the value of generating a lot of questions before choosing priority questions.
Step 5: Plan next steps.
Pool all of the priority questions onto one anchor chart. Discuss common themes and categorize similar questions. News accounts from The Militant may help you answer these questions. See the linked news stories in the writing opportunities section of the lesson. As students read and share their findings, plot answers to the questions on a class timeline.
Step 6: Reflect.
Ask students to think about the work they have done and what they have learned by answering their own questions. Look at Ben Shahn’s Allegory again. Ask students how this new insight changes their appreciation for the painting.