We must ask high order questions for 2016

Last week the British educationalist Stefani Shedden, who led the UK National Challenge Gifted and Talented Project with 64 schools, conducted a workshop at Taibah International School in which teachers engaged with high-order questioning.


In her manual for students and teachers, A* Toolkit, co-authored with a colleague, Graham Watts, Shedden points out that learning and gaining knowledge is in a form of a pyramid hierarchy. Your learning gains more importance as you go up the hierarchy because you are able to do more with it.


Similarly, there is a hierarchy for questions that we teachers use in the classroom. In order to generate challenge and or complexity in our students’ thinking, we must employ tougher questions. At the teachers’ workshop, Shedden was impressed by our ability to rapidly develop tough questions. Teachers effortlessly posed tough questions right away, contrary to how we usually test.


This model is called Bloom’s Taxonomy after the American Benjamin Bloom, whose committee developed it way back in the 1950s. The taxonomy divides education into three main domains and within the domains, it is accepted that learning at higher levels will happen if students gain knowledge and skills but these are at the lowest end of the hierarchy.


The problem is that many of us teachers are stuck at this lower end of skills and knowledge, consequently failing to enable students to access higher-order or tougher thinking.


In many classrooms, teachers ask children to list, define, name, quote, show, collect – all closed questions, with right or wrong answers, testing knowledge. The comprehension skill, which is just above knowledge on the hierarchy, requires children to summarise, describe, estimate or basically to demonstrate that you have understanding of information.


At the higher end, students should be able to use information or knowledge for analysis, evaluation and or create ideas. We, the teachers, have a duty to expose them to higher-order skills that have a wide range of possible answers.


At this level, they should be able to compare and discriminate between ideas or to assess, decide and judge. Unfortunately, when it comes to tests or exams, our questions are still at the lowest level. Most of the time we ask: what, define, tell…, the lower-order questions!


As we approach February 2016, we all need questioning skills. To ensure that we get the best members of parliament or LC-Vs we must learn to ask the toughest questions. Questions at the high end of the hierarchy that invite candidates to show they have analysed and evaluated our current situations.


Indeed there are many questions to ask: let us begin with the proposal to raise MPs’ pay by 11 million shillings. What questions can you think of that will invite MPs to analyse and compare or contrast their wellbeing with or from citizens that they purport to serve?


Then move on to grand corruption: Katosi road, standard gauge railway, pension scam, national IDs phase one and many other scandals. Every candidate should have a plan with new ideas to combat the rampant corruption in the country.


Health matters should come next: is it possible to fly all citizens abroad for advanced medical care post-2016? Every wannabe politicians should have answers ready on this one because Uganda is littered with health centres that are under-utilised and ineffective.


In 2006, I spent a day on the campaign trail with a friend, an independent who was standing against Hon Byandala, deep in the villages of Luweero district. I recall wondering and asking my friend why no one was talking about the lack of electricity and water in all the places we had visited on the day.


Shockingly, he assured me that making such dream promises like getting these villages onto the national grid for water and electricity can lose you votes! No one believed then that it was possible. I wonder if anything has changed now!


It is rumoured that my local MP, Issa Kikungwe of the Democratic Party, will not offer himself for re-election in 2016. We eagerly await new candidates. Top of the list of pressing issues, of course, is Kigo road. We must also quiz each one about how they intend to silence the three, four or five born-again churches plus the five or six discos all in our small village, Mutungo, that never go to sleep!


osm@kigothinkers.org


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