Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #4 – Encouraging Higher Level Questions by Your Gifted Child

Todd Stanley

Parent-Child Talking.pngIn the April edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, there was an article by Jennifer A. Ritchotte and Hasan Y. Zaghlawan coaching parents to use higher-level questioning with twice-exceptional students. Although the focus was 2e, this strategy can be employed by any parent of any gifted child. After all, gifted children come to higher level questioning quite naturally on their own in the form of the billions of questions they ask. “Why is this the way it is? How does that work? Where did that come from?” And yes, it can be annoying to field these questions at times, but this spirit of questioning is something of which we want to be fanning the flames, not smothering.

Ritchotte and Zaghlawan do a fine job of giving parents a brief tutorial on how to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to ratchet up the levels of their questions to their children but it can be made even more simple by using two words; “how” and “why”. When your child proudly shows you a picture she has drawn, don’t just simply praise her artistic nature, ask her why she made the choices she did. Or when he marvels about a butterfly, ask him how he thinks it is able to maintain flight. These simple how and why questions do one thing; they cause your child to pause long enough to think about something. This is the habit we want to get them into. Pizza is your favorite food? Why is that? You managed to win at Candyland? How do you think you were able to accomplish that? By asking these questions consistently, your child just comes to expect it and thus is always thinking about the why and how of their actions.

Better than you the parent asking the questions is getting to the point where your child is the one asking the higher-level questions. One thing I always tried to teach my daughters is that it is not only acceptable to question, it is preferred. This has bit me in the butt on more than one occasion, especially when asking a simple question and seeking a simple answer but instead being questioned:

Me: Could you take the trash out honey?

Daughter: Why?

Me: Because the trash men are coming tomorrow.

Daughter: Why can’t you do it?

Me: Because it’s your chore.

Daughter: How did that become my chore?

Me: Because we’ve each got our own chores to do and that was yours.

Daughter: Why can’t I do one of your chores and you take out the trash?

You get the general idea of why this might become annoying, but it got them in the habit of asking higher level questions. It can be frustrating, but thinking should be a two-way street. If I want her to be thinking, why shouldn’t she ask the same of me?

This higher-level questioning even comes into play in the most common question you probably ask your child. How many times has this happened to you as a parent? You either are picking up your child from school or you are all sitting down at the dinner table, and you innocently ask, “What did you do today in school?”

A seemingly innocuous question. Of course that is the problem with it; it is a question you have asked a thousand times at least. The first time you asked it, you probably got a long, detailed account of how your child’s first day of kindergarten went. By the time they reach middle school or especially in high school, they have become tired of this question as it no longer holds any meaning. As a result, the response you end up getting is either a low grunt, or the terse answer of “nothing”. The reason for these short answers is that the question is no longer causing them to think. It has become routine like brushing their teeth or tying their shoes.

What if instead, you asked them this, “What good question did you ask today?” This does a few things. One, is it makes the learning about them, not something that happened to them. School happens to a lot of children. Anytime you can focus on their role in the learning process, this helps them to see that they have something to do with it. That their role can be active rather than passive. The second thing it does is gets them into the habit of asking the higher-level questions that come so naturally to them. Schools sometimes are worried more about compliance than they are exploring the wandering of a child’s mind. At home we should be teaching our children that it is perfectly OK to question your teacher, as long as it is done in a respectful way. This would be reinforced over the years by encouraging your child to question you as well. The third thing this provides for you is a dialogue opener. If you ask the lower-level question of what did you do today, the best you can hope for is a laundry list of the activities they did. If, however, you ask them what good question they asked, that starts a conversation. Why did they ask the question that they asked? What response did they get from the person they asked it of? How did this response make them feel?

As parents of a gifted child we need to encourage them to ask higher level questions by asking them ourselves. Do your best to ask more how and why questions as opposed to what, when, where, and/or who. Make sure your children know that there is nothing wrong with asking questions and in fact, encourage them to do so. This may take some patience and work on your part when they take one of those questions and go down the rabbit hole with it, but this innate curiosity should be fostered. So, next time your children comes home from school,  ask them what good questions they asked that day and commend them for asking them.

Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools (OH). You can follow Todd on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given concerning gifted education.

The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.