Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How do you write good conceptual questions to engage students in class?

A recent post on the Official Peer Instruction Blog discusses the attributes of effective "concept test" questions. Concept test questions are conceptual questions designed for use in in-class peer instruction with clickers. Effective questions are the questions that, when posed in class for students to discuss and then answer, bring gains to students' conceptual understanding of the "big issues" of the class.

Concept test questions are typically used in the following way when employed in peer instruction: The instructor posts a multiple choice question; students commit to a response using their clickers; before the clicker results are displayed, students turn to their neighbor to compare their responses and discuss why they think their answer is the right one; students respond once more to the multiple choice options using their clickers; clicker results are displayed for the class to see. Even if you're not using clickers in class, the characteristics that make for effective concept test questions also make for effective questions in any classroom setting where you're trying to get students to engage with each other and with the material.

A few key takeaways from the post include, from  Rebecca Younkin:'s important that the answer not be so obvious to everyone in the class that the (questions do not) motivate any discussion. You have to pick something that's, on the one hand, a little bit subtle, but you don't want to just be tricky.
From Judith Herzfeld:
The trick in designing concept tests is to think of them like designing your learning goals for a lesson, or for the chapter that they're reading. To decide what are the ideas that you really want them to get out of the material. Then, to go through and ask questions that will reveal the kinds of uncertainties they might have about the material.
 And finally:
Simply put, writing effective questions is easier then it might seem. You will more often than not observe gains from the very act of engaging your students in the mind tasks of metacognition and retrieval practice and then peer discussion. The questions will of course improve once you get feedback from students and make tweaks.