Classroom observers can use this tool to document and analyze the types of questions that teachers pose to their students.
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Measurement instrument overview
Classroom observers can use this tool to document and analyze the types of questions that teachers pose to their students. The tool includes a table in which an observer can record all questions that teachers pose to students for a set period of time across one or multiple classes. The observer notes how each question is categorized on a 5-point scale. Alternatively, the observer can bring the recorded questions back to the group of math teachers whom they observed, and this group collaboratively categorizes the questions together as a team (this guide focuses on this collaborative approach).
To categorize a question, the observer uses the Innovation Configuration Map, designed by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Dana Center has created separate Innovation Configuration Maps for each of the eight Mathematics Teaching Practices described in Principles to Action, a publication from NCTM.
Connection to student learning
The use of questioning strategies is identified as one of the core components of effective math teachingi. Through the selection and sequencing of questions, teachers can prompt students to articulate and reflect on their own thinking, advance their reasoning, and make connections to other ideasii. Questions vary in their cognitive demand, ranging from those that call for lower order thinking skills, such as recalling facts, to more complex thinking, such as making connections and explaining reasoning. The Innovation Configuration Map included in the TXNSI Question Tracker tool describes the range of questioning strategies and is intended to be used to categorize the types of questions that teachers pose to students.
i National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. https://www.nctm.org/PtA/
What we know about how well this measure works for its intended use
The value of purposeful questioning as a strategy to promote student learning is described in the NCTM Principles to Actions book, including references to prior relevant researchiii. The TXNSI Question Tracker, in particular, has been used to prompt meaningful reflection and next steps among teachers who use the tool. In this guide, illustrations of the tool’s usefulness to drive instructional improvement come from an instructional coach who leads a team of math teachers.
iii Ibid., pp. 35–41
It is recommended that this tracker is used approximately once a week when a team of math teachers is focusing on questioning strategies. A single observation should last at least 5–7 minutes, but longer observations are advised for a more complete understanding of a teacher’s questioning routines. If multiple observers are using the tools to collect classroom observation data, it is critical to calibrate the use of the tools prior to classroom observation.
Measurement routine details
The team of math teachers meets to discuss the use of the TXNSI Question Tracker, including the parameters of each question type. Once the team has come to a shared understanding of the tool, an observer visits one or multiple classrooms and records all questions posed by the teacher to their students (questions may be written or typed). Each question should be recorded verbatim. Once observations are complete, the questions are added to the TXNSI Question Tracker. The observer may choose to indicate the phase of the lesson in which the question was asked, since certain types of questions might be expected in certain phases of the lesson. Note that the question tracker does not include a space to record the teacher’s name, which may be beneficial for protecting the teacher’s identity when sharing in group settings.
Data analysis details
Within a few days of the observation, the team of math teachers meets and categorizes each question on a scale of 1–5, in which 1 is the ideal state and 5 is observable but lacking major components (there is not a level with “no questioning observed”). As a whole, the team must come to a shared understanding on the defining characteristics of each question level prior to use of the TXNSI Question Tracker. Through group discussion and negotiations, the team learns the parameters of each question level and classifies each question as a team.
Conditions that support use
The guide works best when the classroom observer can record questions on behalf of the teacher, as opposed to the teacher recording questions themselves. Ideally, the observer is someone who does not have teaching responsibilities, leaving them with the flexibility to visit multiple classrooms in a short period of time. Additionally, working together as a team to categorize the questions provides opportunity for group reflection and cross-grade interactions and planning. Setting norms to establish trust and a nonjudgmental environment can help teachers feel more comfortable being transparent about their practice in group settings and can support greater learning as a team. Note that teachers may need explicit training to be able to classify questions using the scale. Setting specific goals and expectations makes the guide a useful form of data collection. For example, if the average question is marked as a 3, the team can set the goal to increase that number by half of a point in the next iteration.
Teachers may struggle to come to a shared understanding of question classification, which is why it is important for each team to discuss the boundaries of each question category and resolve any misunderstandings prior to use of the tool. On occasion, the classroom observer may need to place a question with general language (e.g., “What is it?”) in context so the group of teachers can better understand how to classify the question. Also, some teachers may not be comfortable discussing the shortcomings of their practice with the whole team at first, and trust may need to be built over time.
Other tools and resources to support use
The Math Instructor Support Specialist at Summer Creek MS is considering incorporating the following resources to support use of the tool. While these resources are not based on the original Principles to Actions materials that inspired the initial creation of the tool, the Support Specialist felt they may help teachers consider and classify the various levels of questions they can propose to students:
iv BCcampus Open Publishing. (n.d.) Exploring the four levels of questioning. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/studystrategizesucceed/chapter/another-approach-four-levels-of-questioning/
v These resources are drawn from Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels, which provide a framework and vocabulary for how students engage with content.
Danielle Knox has been a math educator for 17 years and is currently the Math Instructor Support Specialist at Summer Creek Middle School. In using the TXNSI Question Tracker, her goal was to help middle school math teachers pose purposeful questions to their students.
Since Danielle is no longer in the classroom, she had the flexibility to observe nine math classrooms — two 6th grade, two 7th grade, three 8th grade, and two Algebra I classes — and record every question verbatim that the teacher posed to students. Within a few days of gathering questions from each of these classes, Danielle compiled the questions into an anonymous list, which teachers reviewed during their professional learning community (PLC) meeting, or over email if time was limited. The team came to a consensus about each question’s classification by explaining their reasoning and individual classifying process to each other until they reached a shared understanding.
As teachers reviewed the anonymous list of questions in the TXNSI Question Tracker, they would often identify their own questions and express their beliefs about the errors they made, even days after the observation. For example, one teacher realized that asking the question, “What do you do first?” was not specific enough, and they needed to ask more detailed questions to guide students’ mathematical thinking. Meeting as a whole team to discuss purposeful questions also provided opportunities for vertical alignment across grade levels, as teachers in lower level courses learned about what was being taught in the next grade level and could plan their lessons accordingly.
However, using the TXNSI Question Tracker does come with challenges. At times it became clear to Danielle that teachers were more comfortable discussing the shortcomings of their practice with teachers in their own grade level than as a whole math team. Additionally, differentiating between question types proved to be difficult. This is why identifying question types as a team was important — these discussions helped the group come to a shared understanding of each question type as they worked together to make sense of the tool. With a better understanding of the tool, the team began to specify goals for improving the level of their questioning.
The more that teachers use the tracker, the more familiar they become with each level of questioning and can reach a shared definition around what constitutes each question type. As such, it is recommended that it be used on a weekly basis, if not more often. It is also advised that the observer is an individual without teaching responsibility, giving them the flexibility to visit multiple classrooms for question tracking and to facilitate the question classification exercise.
Danielle Knox, Math Instructor Support Specialist at Summer Creek Middle School
Mary Davis, Professional Learning Facilitator, Mathematics, K–12 Services at University of Texas at Austin Charles A. Dana Center
Denise Thornton, Professional Learning Facilitator, Mathematics, K–12 Services at University of Texas at Austin Charles A. Dana Center