Encourage critical thinking with 3 questions | Brian Oshiro | TEDxXiguan

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I am a professional teacher evaluator

and for the past 15 years I've been

travelling throughout the United States

and China trying to answer the

not-so-easy question of how do we make

our teachers better and on a series of

recent school visits here in China

school leaders asked me how their

teachers could further creative thinking

and creativity in their classes they

wanted to address the claim that their

students were mostly Road learners and

that's the claim goes that beyond the

memorization effects in figures their

students really didn't have the

opportunity to put this knowledge to use

outside of the classroom now they've

heard that in the West their Western

counterparts have smaller classes maybe

there is more opportunities for group

interaction and students there have an

opportunity to pursue topics that are of

genuine interest to them and so school

leaders are now looking for ways to

inject new teaching methodologies into

the Chinese classroom and as a teacher

evaluator there are certain things that

I look for whenever I observe a class

one thing that I look for in particular

are the types of questions that teachers

ask questions our way of bringing the

textbook material to life they're a way

of directly engaging the students and

making sure that the students stay on

task they're also a way to check for

understanding to make sure that the

students are actually absorbing what

they're supposed to be learning but not

all questions are created equally take a

look at this pair of questions here the

first one question a reads do you know

what climate change is and the second

one question B reads what are three


of climate change now which one of these

questions better assesses student

learning if you said B you're right

question B requires you to possess a

specific type of knowledge in order to

answer this question either you have

this information or you don't and so

let's go ahead and this time we'll add

another question into the mix take a

look at question C why do some claim

that climate change is the biggest

crisis facing this generation now which

one of these better assesses student


well this question may be a little more

difficult in the previous one because

they both can and so the former assesses

student knowledge while the latter gives

students an opportunity to think of the

consequences of an impending disaster

and so in the ideal class students would

first ask or teachers rather would first

ask question B to establish the

foundation knowledge and then they would

ask question C to give students an

opportunity to use this knowledge now

think back to when you guys were in

school and I know for many of us this

may be a difficult painful experience

but think for a second if your teacher

only asked you questions like a question

B well this might be great for you know

trivia contests but we would never get

an opportunity to use or put this

knowledge to good use and think about

for a second if your teacher only asked

you questions like question C and these

are pretty difficult questions this

might serve to frustrate your learning

and maybe you'd be tempted to give up

before you even get started now back to

the observations I went on these teacher

observations recently and we saw

different classes but I noticed that

there was something in particular that

was lacking and while the teachers were

certainly well prepared

and there was a lot of engagement going

on in the classes in overwhelming 90% of

the questions that were asked were of

lower order question types in other

words they looked more like question B

and in three of those classes

not one single higher order question was

even asked and so how does this even

happen while asking higher order

questions is the key to stimulating

critical thinking and we need to be able

to give students an opportunity to

grapple with questions that don't

necessarily have one correct answer this

is more realistic of the types of

situations that they're likely to face

when they get outside of the classroom

now teachers shouldn't have to bear the

responsibility on their own when it

comes to something as important as

critical thinking then it's all of our

collective responsibility in order to

push students forward in other words

when it comes to creativity the door

doesn't just shut when the school day

ends and as the parent of school

children myself it got me thinking about

the following question how can we better

support critical thinking and creativity

in schools by asking better deeper

questions outside of them now as we know

we can study easier questions we can

answer easier questions and this is

great for exams but as participants in

society we all know that we have to deal

with questions that are a lot more

complicated than those found on a

multiple-choice test in reality right

and we can see here real life is a bunch

of squiggles there is not necessarily a

blueprint that tells us how to get from

A to B and so with this type of

situation it's important that we expose

our students to a degree of uncertainty

in their classes and not just wait until

they have to experience it for


for the first time outside of the

classroom you know these days we send

our kids to piano practice at age 4

maybe soccer practice at each 5 maybe

they learn English at 3 months I don't

know it's getting earlier and earlier

these days but one of the reasons why we

do this is to give students an

opportunity to learn some subjects or to

be exposed to things that they normally

wouldn't be able to do outside of the

classroom so when it's something as

important as critical thinking at stake

does it not also make sense to expose

our students to these tougher questions

earlier when the stakes are not as high

now when we ask tougher questions such

as why questions it's a lot more

difficult and it's difficult for a

number of different reasons and one

reason it tends to be difficult is that

in answering a wide question the

students need to put themselves out

there there's a risk there there's a

risk that well maybe they they feel they

won't say the right thing or maybe

they'll be judged by their classmates

but we need to do a better job of

encouraging this and instilling in our

students the grit necessary to be able

to persevere against challenging topics

that come their way

and so what schools need to then do a

better job of because we assume to a

certain degree that in school students

are able to connect the dots for

themselves in other words we assume that

they can take whatever knowledge that

they learn in school and somehow be able

to figure out how to use it outside of

it but this assumption is dead wrong and

in fact stew schools need to do a better

job of not just teaching students the

what or the contents but getting them to

how by asking more wise and luckily the

we all can play a role in this in fact

we can

ask better questions by inviting others

to ask better questions of us and here

are three ways in which you can do that

so let's go ahead and start with number

one we can first start with a what

question but don't end there remember

when we ask a what question this is the

starting point and when we ask these

types of questions in class students get

a little bit excited because it's one of

these answers where if you get it you

get it and if you don't you don't but

let's take a question that we started

out with earlier and it's this one what

are three main closet or causes rather

of climate change and so if I were to

ask this to my students students could

easily find the answer by doing a quick

search on the internet or maybe they

would review their class notes but the

point is it would take little effort to

answer this type of question but asking

this type of question is deceptive

because if you get enough of these right

it could give you this false sense of

security like oh I know the answer right

but as we know our jobs in all of this

is to move beyond the textbooks because

this is what the textbooks are for and

our job is to put some kind of real

world spin on the type of content that

students are learning in school so

there's a way to make this kind of

question a little more productive rather

than just asking students the one what

we could do instead is have them explain

or paraphrase what they word in class

what they learned in class and so

consider the transformation we changed

what are three causes of climate change

to explain what the three main causes of

climate change are and here by asking

this question instead students need to

give a little bit more in other words

it's not just a safe answer they have to

go ahead and take that risk and put

themselves out there so once we've

established the what

then we can start making connections by

asking a series of y questions and so

asking these why questions gives

students an opportunity to connect

whatever knowledge they have to

something personal in their lives and so

here are just some examples of possible

Y questions that students can ask well

why is climate change important for me

someone who lives here in Guangzhou why

should i as a student be concerned about

this now and not later and why is this

relevant and when students make

information or you know abstract

information from textbooks relevant then

they can see the value in this and they

start asking themselves okay how can I

take this information and put it in my

sphere of influence and to think about

how this could be useful in my everyday

of life

so once we've established the what and

then we figured out how to connect it

with the Y then we can start the fun

stuff right trying to solve by asking

the house and here's some of my favorite

how questions that I like to ask the

first one is how do you know so in our

earlier question about climate change

rather than just giving the answers

students then have to back up their

answers so what are the three main

causes of climate change blah blah blah

and then you can ask well how do you

know this and by asking this question

the students then cannot just get away

with the easy answer in other words they

have to provide some sort of evidence

and to be able to defend their answer

against some logical attack the second

question how might your perspective be

different from that of others and this

forces students to empathize with others

for example if they're in some kind of

debate or something then this gives

students an opportunity to evaluate the

grounds of the other side and to

consider their needs and maybe to find

some common ground and the final

question is how can you solve this

problem and of course this is kind of

the the queen-mother of all questions

it's huge right but in doing so students

to synthesize all of their previous

knowledge and be able to figure out how

to make this their own and to be able to

apply themselves and by taking this huge

question and boiling it down into

manageable parts this is a valiant

valuable part of the process now what's

the take away from all of this

well for you students who are listening

to this this is an opportunity for you

to extend your learning past the exams

it's an opportunity that will serve you

well well into the future in other words

you're not just asking quite answering

questions for questions eggs you're

doing it in order to prepare yourselves

for the types of uncertainties that

you're likely to face if you're a parent

listening to this asking better

questions is a great way to help your

students to review by them having to

explain contents that maybe they're not

as or maybe that you're not as familiar

with they then have to think about how

they're going to put this into sort of

digestible pieces for you to be able to

understand it and it's a great way to be

able to consolidate learning if you're a

teacher listening to this think about

how you could further integrate

higher-order questions into your classes

and if efficiency is one of the reasons

why you're not asking enough

higher-order questions then evaluate the

sort of activities you do with your

students in class and if they don't go

toward the goal of advancing critical

thinking and creativity then think about

whether or not these activities are

truly relevant and if you're a lifelong

learner ask yourself these questions in

order to test your assumptions about

what you think you already know at the

very least you'll be able to empathize

with the other side and to possibly find

some common ground now you know it's

it's naive for us to think and for me to

stand up here and to say that you know

just by asking if

more how questions or a few more why

questions that this is going to be

enough to create the next generation of

great innovators and critical thinkers

after all it takes a kind of group

effort one in which schools collaborate

with teachers and students and parents

to create an environment where risk is

rewarded and there's no fear of getting

an answer wrong but in schools today we

tend to reward the right answers and to

penalize the wrong ones and as dr. Ken

Robinson and other educators have noted

our schools are in danger of falling

hopelessly out of date in preparing our

students for the challenges that come

along with the mid 21st century and so

if risk is something that we hope to

promote among our students then it's

only fair that we allow our teachers to

be able to take these risks and well as

well and by giving them a place to ask

Moorehouse and more wise this models the

very type of critical thinking that we

hope to instill in our students so if we

can all improve and support critical

thinking by asking a few extra questions

each day then maybe the most appropriate

question we should be asking ourselves

is why not thank you very much