Questions and Thinking in Common Core
Part 2: Students as Questioners
Questioning the Author (QtA)
Questioning the Author is another strategy to help students engage with text a la Common Core. This strategy is used while reading a text as a group. It is intended to help readers grapple with text together (think about the information presented) and build upon each other's ideas in a discussion (think about their thinking). It is a student-centered approach with the teacher assuming a supportive role in the background.
Questioning the Author (QtA) was originally designed to help students navigate and comprehend content area (informational) textbooks, which sometimes contain flawed writing. With QtA students are taught that authors are sometimes fallible and that by questioning the author they can figure out the author's intent and better construct meaning. As an example, take a look at this explanation using a commonplace poster about employees washing their hands before returning to work.
Although the teacher has a lesser role (as facilitator) in discussions, there is important work to be done by the teacher ahead of time:
We must know the text we are using well. In that way we can determine two things—the major understandings we want students to take from the passage(s) and the challenging parts of the text that may prove difficult for students. (Is there something unclear? Are more details needed? Where is the passage dense with information?)
Decide in advance where in the text you will stop the reading and begin a discussion using QtA. This chunking or segmenting is critical, because it occurs where it makes the most sense for key understandings—perhaps after only a sentence or two.
Initiate a discussion with a query. Queries always address what the author says or means. Some examples include:
What is the author trying to say in this part?
Did he or she explain it clearly?
Does this make sense with what the author told us earlier?
(And for narrative text):
How does the author let you know that something has changed for our character?
How do things look for this character now?
What predictions can you make about the character, given what the author has already told us?
As with so many other things we teach, it's important to model with think-alouds when introducing this strategy. A link for a Think-aloud exemplar (Word document) for upper elementary students using Jane Yolen's Raising Yoder's Barn is available at Making the Common Core Come Alive from Just Ask. The transcript clearly shows the strategies modeled. With our intentional modeling, a classroom culture of questioning, and lots of practice, we hope students themselves will eventually be able to take over as questioners during QtA lessons.
Helpful resources to check out include this Question the Author strategy guide at readwritethink.org and a blank template for QtA lessons. You can also find a ready-made template here that might be suitable for certain texts.
Question-Answer Relationships • Questioning the Author • Questions to Guide Inquiry