I explain that this first lesson will teach them something we will be using repeatedly throughout the year, Levels of Questioning. I like making this the first lesson of the year because the concept and the language of Costa's classification of questions is extremely useful when helping students read, write and communicate. The basic concept is that the questions we ask about a text can be simple or complex and that the more complex questions require deep thinking. Throughout the year, I differentiate between questions that are level 1 versus level 2 or 3, and between ideas that are level 1 versus level 2 or level 3. Soon students know what I am talking about and this helps me illustrate the quality of responses that rigorous Language Arts work and the Common Core call for. My student population generally comes unprepared for such work and Costa's work helps me lay the foundation they will need to access Common Core standards that will inevitable be challenging for them.
I tell students that the ability to ask questions is an important thinking skill and that the questions we ask can be simple or complex. I tell them that in this class we are going to differentiate between simple and complex questions by following a classification system created by a man named Arthur Costa. I explain that he classified questions in three levels and I distribute a copy of the definitions of these Levels of Questions. In this video, I explain a bit about this worksheet. I let students know that they will be highlighting key words in the definition for the purpose of emphasizing the characteristics of each level. I read the definition of Level 1 Questions and ask students to suggest the key words in the definition. They are generally very good at this so this part goes fast. Also, this task becomes even easier when I go ahead and read the other definitions and point out that they are similar except for some words and that these words are the ones that define the characteristics of each. My students were able to scan the three definitions on their own and quickly identify the words that needed to be highlighted. You can see the words we highlighted in this highlighted copy of the Levels of Questions sheet. Very soon into the activity, students will ask what they should write as example. I tell them that, later in this lesson, we are reading a brief story and formulating questions about it to use as examples in this paper. I make sure to tell them that what they need to understand as we move on to formulate questions of each level is that each level requires more thinking than the previous one. By the end of this lesson, they should be able to see the relationship between asking good questions and engaging in deep thought.
I tell students that we are reading a children's story and will use it to practice formulating level 1 and level 2 questions. I explain that this story is clearly easy for a child to understand, but that if we look a little deeper and think a little harder, we can find ideas in this story that are more profound and that a child is not expected to perceive. Essentially, this text has layers that we can peel back and that is why it helps me clearly explain to students the difference between level 1, level 2, and level 3 questions. I will be asking students to identify these layers by paying close attention to the textual details, skills outlined in CCSS RL.11-12.1 and RL.11-12.2. The story is a children's book titled "Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type." I do not have a class set of this book and it is not necessary to have one today because the text is so short and manageable. One copy can easily be projected using a document reader. I read the story aloud. High school students of all grade levels have not been able to help themselves and openly express how thoroughly they enjoy the story. Their eyes were glued to the projected image, with the same eager expression a child has when being read to, and they giggled at the right moments.
Once I finish reading, I ask students to look back at the definition of a level 1 question and suggest one we can include as an example in the paper I have given them. These will be generally easy. Students will ask if they need to answer them. The answer is no, but they do need to have the answer in mind. The only mistakes I expect with level 1 questions have to do with students asking things we would never be able to find an answer to. For instance, a student asked if Farmer Brown has a wife. This presents an opportunity to clarify level 1 questions. I tell them that there is nothing in the story that could help us come up with a convincing answer to this question. Also, the questions we ask must help us focus on the parts of the text that help us understand the text. Whether Farmer Brown has a wife or not does not help us understand this story. Students begin to get the point and suggest good level 1 questions. It is important for me to praise those brave students who suggest the first questions, even if their questions did not meet the definition. I thank these students for helping us understand these questions better by allowing us to clarify the one they suggested. I also tell them that this gives them major participation points in my grade book. This usually puts a satisfied smile on their face. I want to encourage them to take risks and be ok with making mistakes early in the school year. We end up writing the following two good questions as examples of level 1 questions: What were the cows demanding? Who was the neutral party?
I praise students for coming up with good questions today. I let them know that the next lesson will focus on level 2 and level 3 questions.