In my 24 years of teaching high school English in the Sweetwater District in Southern California I have never used a strategy as powerful as the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). I am teaching Honors English 11 this year with a very unique set of students. These are the students, primarily, who have listened to their teachers’ prodding and have made the jump from regular English to Honors, but they all come with baggage of some sort – failing in the past, issues outside of school that affect them in school, lack of certain literacy skills.
I decided that I would try the QFT when I wanted them to see what they were going to learn and how everything was going to work together to help them improve their reading and writing for the SAT, English Placement Test (EPT), and Advanced Placement (AP) writing tests. One of the purposes of Honors at my school is to send them into AP the following year and assist them in becoming EPT exempt and SAT-ready.
The Question Formulation Technique is actually a shortcut to daily learning targets and lesson goals because the kids set the agenda with their questions. It incorporates three thinking processes in one activity:
• divergent thinking – thinking in many different directions so kids feel safe in asking questions about the Question Focus
• convergent thinking – narrowing down and focusing the questions
• metacognitive thinking – the students discussing why they asked what they did, which will get them to their Next Step provided by the teacher.
On this day I learned that the kids were interested in exactly what I wanted them to be! I was worried that if I did not give them all of the information I wanted them to learn and find and present that they were going to be missing out on vital information. Actually, the kids found and presented everything and were able to explain it so their peers understood.
Their questions about my Question Focus: “English 11 Honors Readys” (I explained that “readys” was my word, that it wasn’t really a noun, but an adjective and they could not use it out of this context and they laughed and understood!) led them to researching and finding it all. I followed the QFT steps and then had them prioritize their questions about the Question Focus and then gave them their next steps, which was to research and find answers to define a ready: AP-ready, SAT-ready, EPT-ready. I was blown away with their focus, their interest, and their presentations.
QFT stimulates students’ curiosity, increases student engagement and student ownership, and promotes deeper learning. I have seen it work and have seen these learning outcomes each time we use this strategy.
You can access free resources on the RQI website and use this strategy in your classroom tomorrow. It takes planning and understanding on your part and following the four rules exactly, but it is the easiest strategy I have ever used and the results are uplifting, fun, and have restored my faith in the power of a teacher with a strategy that works and honors students.
Andrea Giordano-Rink is an English teacher at San Ysidro High School in California.