________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006


Asking Better Questions. 2nd. ed.

Norah Morgan & Juliana Saxton.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006.
158 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 1-55138-209-1.

Subject Headings:


Review by Brian Lewthwaite.

*** /4


I was taken by the title of this book because one of my post-graduate students (let’s call her Kelly) is currently investigating this topic in her Master of Education thesis. She is a Grade 9 science teacher and wants to determine which teaching strategies promote the development of better quality questions by her students through a research project that will see the implementation and evaluation of these strategies in her own classroom. The book appeared at the right time. She was in the process of developing her literature review and was frustrated by the lack of resource information that provided practical examples of how a teacher might assist students in developing better inquiry questions. The book, at least by judging by the cover, appeared to be a valuable find. The book did not sit unopened for long. We both read the book hoping to develop a (1) better understanding of questioning and its role in general in fostering student learning and a (2) helping hand in some strategies that might be used in her own classroom research. The book was read, reread and discussed. Much of what came out of our discussion is what I share with you.

     First and foremost, Kelly found the first sections of the book “confirmatory.” She was delighted! Her own pursuit of getting her students to ask better questions came from her own discontent with them as learners. As the authors’ purport, she was frustrated by the level of engagement she was witnessing in her students. She wanted them to inquire, to challenge, to question, not just for her sake but, more importantly, theirs, and not just in the classroom, but as citizens of a local community. She also knew it really wasn’t their fault. The opening pages of the book conveyed her motivation for her own research. As the authors state, “This book is offered in the hope, that by examining how to question, we may arrive at answers that will generate richer classroom interactions and provide our students with opportunities to develop and practice that essential democratic skill.” (p. 11). As well, the introductory sessions made it explicit that the purpose of the book was to help educators identify what was currently happening in their classroom and to further consider what they would like to happen. Equally she hoped there would be much concrete support provided in how to move from where she was at to where she wanted to be. Kelly had found gold; at least she hoped!

       Kelly was captivated by the notion of the “vigorous learner” (p. 17). She identified that her own journey in her research was to move her science students from the passive to active mode, especially in being curious and asking questions worthy of investigation. She challenges the orthodoxy of many classrooms by wanting and encouraging but not as yet demanding students to be “in the active mode.” That is, students working energetically, acting upon their initiatives, acting upon others (peers and teachers), and understanding that they have the right to (and the responsibility) to contribute their ideas, experiences, and feelings about the content and procedures of the lesson.

       The early sections of the book made us both realize that the book was written, primarily, to assist teachers in asking better questions. Kelly wanted her students to ask better questions. This was only somewhat disappointing for her as she quickly identified that, although the book was oriented towards teachers and their question asking, the information provided and strategies suggested would help her to elicit better student questions. Kelly recognized that she wanted her students to ask higher-order “questions that invite synthesis” (p. 23). This question-type is the heart of investigating in science. Although she celebrated students asking “questions that draw upon knowledge and understanding,” it was the questions that prompted creativity in investigation that were at the core of her research. How could she get students not only asking “why,” but, more importantly, how could she get them asking “what would happen if” or “how could we”?

       Asking Better Questions provided a solid theoretical foundation for Kelly in a very practical, user-friendly way. The theory and examples provided were easily applicable to her own context and merged well with more theoretical “inquiry” writers such as Dewey and Bruner. The text was useful to her only to a point because it focused on teachers asking better questions. Although there are chapters on “student as questioner” (Chapter 11 & 12), Kelly was looking for specific ways in science to get students to move towards a “cognitive disequilibrium” as triggers to their questions. This disequilibrium, she supposed, would trigger their inquiry questions. The strategies suggested for promoting student questioning, we both thought were under-developed.

       In all, we both found valuable insight and practical examples on how to ask better questions as educators. Similarly, all educators would benefit from this book as well. We did not find strategies greatly applicable to our context. That was not a fault of the book. Instead, it was a reflection of how specific her research context and focus were. So, Kelly moves ahead in her research much better informed about asking better questions but still needing to know what strategies best support her students in asking better questions.


Brian Lewthwaite is a professor of Science Education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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