This is a reposting of a previously-written blog.  The video link may not work and I apologize for that.  See you all next week.

This a question that Dr. Richard Allington, renowned reading researcher and all-around gadfly, answers in the October 2014 issue of Educational Leadership. Before hearing his response, listen to what our designated guide, Rachel, states in Indicators in Action about the characteristics of effective questions. Note, in particular, the last characteristic she presents. Click the link below the photo to start the video. Important note: After watching the video click your back button to return to this post.


Now, if you ask Dr. Allington this question, you’re sure to get an earful.  He has been railing against ineffective elementary teaching practices for decades and has written a challenging and informative article. 

 Dr. Allington cites numerous research studies that support the use of higher-order questioning and discussions in early elementary classrooms, including:

  • “… engaging students in literate conversations with their peers is a powerful instructional strategy for fostering both short- and long-term reading comprehension.”
  • “ …even brief opportunities for discussion can improve students’ understanding of texts and their performance on traditional assessments of reading comprehension.”
  • “In a study of high-poverty schools … more effective teachers asked five times as many higher-order questions and offered twice as many opportunities for discussion as less effective teachers did. The more effective teachers were also more likely to ask students to respond in writing to higher-order questions.”

Note: Check out the work of Robert Marzano et al (Classroom Instruction That Works) and John Hattie (Visible Learning) for additional research support for          higher-order questioning.

Dr. Allington posits three main reasons why elementary teachers continue to ask low-level questions:

  1. The preponderance of multiple-choice questions on standardized achievement tests drives classroom instructional practices
  2. The use of commercial reading programs that provide almost no guidance for discussion
  3. Evidence that classroom teachers are not trained to implement and manage classroom discussions

 What are we to do with this information? Dr. Allington makes the following recommendations based on the research studies he cites:

  • Teachers need to increase their skills for implementing and managing classroom discussions.
  • Since students have little experience engaging one another in conversation, begin with a basic “turn, pair, and share” (also referred to as “think-pair-share”) approach.  Teachers will need to model this approach to show students how to disagree or challenge other students’ comments.
  • Expand the turn, pair, and share approach by combining groups as they gain competence with the process.  Then have groups write about what they discussed.
  • Continue to ask higher-order questions that, as Rachel says in Indicators in Action (Instruction Course, Module Three, Part 1, Segment 54), are “Thought provoking, sufficiently strong to pique interest, and designed to help students understand and analyze.”  

Please note that this article is not available to share electronically.  However, it is well worth reading. Perhaps it could be shared and discussed at an entire staff meeting or at instructional team meetings.

The following questions might stimulate these conversations: 

What types of questions are we asking in our classrooms? Are we asking predominantly higher-order or low-level questions? Can we use targeted walkthroughs to determine the answer to this question? 

Are we modeling for our students how to have discussions and not just telling them to “turn, pair, and share”? We need to demonstrate how to have a discussion and how to disagree or challenge a response. 

If we want to increase the number and quality of higher-order questions, what professional development can we provide to our teachers? Which teachers are doing a good job and can provide this PD? 

Are we incorporating writing into the process, giving students the opportunities to develop their critical thinking and writing skills?



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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href=""></a> and via email at
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