Getting students to cue recently learned material with self-generated questions is a useful form of elaboration (i.e., a way of re-running information through their meat computers). It's essentially the method used by the Cornell note taking strategy: take some notes and then re-engineer this new information into study questions:
- What is confirmation bias?
- What are the five rights guaranteed by the first amendment?
- What is the difference between a chromatid and a chromosome?
Here's what I mean. At left are questions my students self- generated for a Humanities unit in which we read Bacon's "Idols of the Mind" from Novum Organon, Hume's "On Miracles" from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Condorcet's On the Future Progress of Mankind.
Students were asked to create a mix of level-one questions (recall, summarized understanding) and level-two questions (connection, contrast, application, analysis of structure). They had to write their questions and list all of the critical thinking skills needed to answer them.
To answer the top question, for example, requires us only to recall what Condorcet said and to state it accurately in our own words. The middle question, on the other hand, requires us to understand Hume's claim about miracles and to see how it applies to a hypothetical example of our own invention. The bottom one actually requires quite a bit of critical engagement. We would have to both understand the two texts and articulate an evidence-based relationship between them. To even pose this question, you have to intuit a relationship is there, and this "sensing" (or intuition) is edging them toward how experts think.
I say "edging them toward how experts think" and the key word here is edging. Students will not suddenly make the jump to light speed just because they posed their own questions. Unlike experts, they still lack what Aristotle called nous, a honed intuition about where it's propitious to start asking questions. As a result, you will have to suffer through some non-starter questions about silly relationships between ideas (How does Darwin's theory of evolution apply to the Yahoos in Swift's Gulliver's Travels?). But even these non-starter questions have value. Let the students gnaw on them a while and they will eventually realize this is a question not worth their time.
Hence the one drawback to this approach. If you are professor who needs to cover a lot of content or who needs to instill some key content (Spanish verb tenses, math facts), this may not work for you. Moreover, it won't work unless you model, practice and incentivize higher order-question formation. Indeed, if you ask students to self-generate questions without any modeling or prompting of good critical questions, they will inevitably produce those requiring simple regurgitation of definitions or summarized understandings (a lot of questions along the line of the top card above).
This can be a useful way of making information stick, but it doesn't induce a high-level of engagement with the material, which all students--even academically under-prepared students--are capable of when prompted and encouraged to do so. Moreover, they actually like doing it. One of my favorite exercises is to ask students to pose and answer a question that seeks a connection between the material in my Humanities course and material in one of their other courses. Here's a good response to this exercise:
The thinking here is pretty complex. The student intuited a connection between Achilles (who questioned the value of glory and loot in Book IX of the Iliad) and Socrates in the Apology (who questioned Athens' accepted norms), but she also saw how Asch's conformity experiments in the 1970s related to these ancient texts. These connections likely would not have happened if (A) I had not invoked the need to look for them and (B) she hadn't posed herself this question: how does idea X and Y relate to idea Z?
That it was her question and her answer was paramount in this exercise. Had I made this connection, it would be just something I mentioned in class that she may or may not have found interesting. That she made it assures it's something that more likely interested her. It's my hypothesis that any connection she makes on her own is 10 times more valuable and likely to stick than those I make in class and require her to spit back to me in papers or exams.
Of course making connections is one thing. Getting students to pose questions that take them to the top of Bloom's taxonomy is quite another.
Next up: Questions that provoke evaluation and synthesis (why they're so difficult).