Questioning for Controversial and Critical Thinking Dialogues in the Social Studies Classroom

By Lennon, Sean | Issues in Teacher Education, April 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Questioning for Controversial and Critical Thinking Dialogues in the Social Studies Classroom


Lennon, Sean, Issues in Teacher Education


Questioning as an Educational Tool

The design and implementation of questioning, specifically in regards towards a higher level of thinking, is a common practice in many secondary social science classrooms (Bickmore & Parker, 2012). Questioning can help the teacher develop critical thinking concepts, scaffold discussions, and prod students towards an elevated level of cognition (Yang, Newby & Bill, 2005). It can also aid in guiding group discourse and help students in developing a rational understanding of a problem or concept (Byun, Lee, & Cerreto, 2014; Godfrey & Grayman, 2014). Yet many educators may feel limited or not prepared in their conception and ability towards this practice. The confusion is merited, in some respects, as questioning is a skill not easily mastered or understood.

To conceptualize questioning it may be best to define the word by its basic meanings. The American Heritage Dictionary (1991) defines a question as "an expression of inquiry that invites or calls for a reply" (p.1015). It subsequently defines the word, in the case as a noun, with ten definitions clustered in seven primary groups. As a verb, it can be delineated as either transitive or intransitive with the dictionary hav ing four different definitions (Berube, et al., 1991). However, by limiting the definition to components of speech, a question may be 'used' as an interrogative, an abstract, a rhetorical inquiry (though not always), a point or part of a controversy and debate, or as a reflective or inquisitive tool or manipulative (1991). Here, the latter definitions are what we are going to explore. Regarding structure, a question can be defined as both well-fitted, with clear and expected outcomes, or as ill-fitted, or lacking expected outcomes. The ill-fitted type of structure, usually inferred as an open ended question (though not always), is generally seen as more productive towards achieving higher order thinking (Byun, Lee, & Cerreto, 2014). Towards a group or class, such teacher led questioning can help in developing critical thinking dialogues where respondents engage in civil discourse on a variety of topics, some possibly controversial in nature (King, 2002; Ochoa & Pineda, 2008)). This dialogue can be beneficial to students in many ways.

For this article three different terms are utilized; discussion, discourse and dialogue. The online dictionary, Mirriam-Webster (2015) defines discussions as talking about something with others or within the act of answering or responding to a question in an informal debate. The American Heritage Dictionary (1991) defines it as "the consideration of a subject by a group" or a "formal discourse of a topic" (p. 404). Discourse, by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, is clarified as a verbal interchange of ideas, while dialogues are explained as a conversation between two or more people, also in an exchange of ideas and opinions (2015). The American Heritage Dictionary develops dialogue as "a conversation between two or more people" or "an exchange of ideas or opinions" (p.392). Of course, these are very simplistic definitions and do not go towards the epistemological or axiological underpinnings of these terms, such as the development of discourse theory or towards more developed dialogic constructs (Foucalt, 1977; Purmohammad, 2015; van Luesen, 2007). In these, highly involved and complicated concepts of language, power, syntax, and form (to name a few) are intertwined theories of thought and understanding, concepts far more complex than needed here. For the sake of reading clarity, all three will be used under the simple definition of 'talking with others in an exchange of ideas or opinions.'

To engage in dialogue of opposing views needs to involve a multimodal perspective utilizing both active and passive learning styles. If the process is respectful and engaged, students can develop new and different information as compared to their own perspective or lens. …

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