Real Questions and Useless Questions
A lesson in real learning
Read the following statement, then answer the questions below.
Some Gelflings were yarping in a pleg. But when the pleg was bargled, the Gelflings were left darpless.
1. What were the Gelflings doing?
2. What happened to the pleg?
3. In the end, what became of the Gelflings?
Now you should be able to score 3 out of 3 here. Most people, certainly from the age of 10, can do so. The answers can be found in the statements. The correct answers are:
1. The Gelflings were yarping in a pleg.
2. The pleg was bargled.
3. The Gelflings were left darpless.
Notice that you can literally copy and paste the answers from the statements. So if a student wrote these answers, they have scored full marks. 100%. We can all feel pleased with that score.
The only problem is, these questions do not test or measure understanding! A student, in this scenario, can score 100% on a test, and yet have no understanding of what they have read. We cannot be sure they know what a pleg is. They may have no idea what one is doing when they yarp. There is a simple way to find out. We can ask two further questions, this time, the type of question which asks for understanding.
See how you go yourself.
4. In your own words, explain why things ended up as they did?
5. What lessons can we take away from this story?
Now we have a problem! Because of the unusual statements (of course there are deliberately nonsense words) it is actually not possible to discuss or analyse or demonstrate insight into the statements. But that didn’t stop students from scoring 100% on the first 3 questions!
Here is your takeaway, and it’s important. Not all questions are equally useful. This goes for asking verbal questions when working with a student to help them understand something; and it goes for writing prompts which should seek to invite a student to unpack and analyse and explain their understanding in their own words.
If you want to help a student, make a habit of asking real, meaningful questions.