Our 2022-23 PCN Guiding Text: Questioning for Formative Feedback

We are very excited to announce that the guiding text for this year’s Powerful Conversations Network will be Jackie Acree Walsh’s Questioning for Formative Feedback: Meaningful Dialogue to Improve Learning.

This book solidifies Jackie’s place at the forefront of research and knowledge around Quality Questioning and classroom discourse. Even more importantly, it provides practitioners with opportunities to see how other teachers employ questioning strategies in real Alabama classrooms. I’ve asked Jackie to share more of the details below. 

Please join us for a highly engaging year of networked learning as we dive deep into Jackie’s immense knowledge of this subject so that we can all benefit from new skills and strategies to help us improve questioning and increase learning for Alabama students.

Stoney M. Beavers, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President for the Alabama Best Practices Center
A+ Education Partnership

Why Questioning for Formative Feedback Is So Important

By Jackie Acree Walsh, Ph.D.
Author and Consultant
Alabama Best Practices Center

I am delighted that during the 2022-23 school year Powerful Conversations Network members will be exploring important issues emerging from my new ASCD book Questioning for Formative Feedback. There are two primary reasons why I’m hopeful that PCN members will value the professional learning prompted by this exploration.

First, the book connects to and extends learning from PCN’s past years. The practices featured in this book are research-based and align with and complement Marzano’s The New Art and Science of Teaching (2017). Questioning for Formative Feedback emphasizes student roles and responsibilities in questioning, self-monitoring, and interactions that optimize feedback to teachers, peers, and self.

Further, the major tenets of social-emotional learning – the focus of PCN study in previous years and a continuing priority for most teachers – are integrated into this book.

Second, the principles and practices embedded in Questioning for Formative Feedback were field-tested by Alabama teachers. The book contains vignettes and QR codes connected to classroom videos featuring 17 Alabama teachers. These span K-12 classrooms, multiple subject areas, and five school districts. I’m excited that PCN members will be able to draw from the experience of these colleagues as they explore and deepen their learning in questioning, dialogue, and feedback.

How This New Book Came About

Over the past 30 years I’ve been privileged to engage teachers and school leaders across the country in professional learning that focuses on quality questioning. In particular, this work has provided me the opportunity to learn with and from teachers about the best ways to rethink long-established classroom practices related to questioning.

Together we’ve engaged in reciprocal feedback, a two-way process through which teachers informed me of what was working (and not!), and I, in turn, responded with feedback related to their area of focus. This feedback from practitioners served to reshape my thinking about questioning in a number of ways and, in turn, inform what I have to share in Questioning for Formative Feedback.

My rethinking began with the why of questioning. As I refocused on questioning’s primary purpose, I also reconsidered how students might best use questioning to obtain and apply feedback for learning. This process of reflection and self-examination led to a modification of my views about the best ways teachers can plan for and facilitate student engagement in questioning.

Why – The Golden Circle for Quality Questioning

In his book, Start with The Why (2011), author Simon Sinek proposes a “golden circle” that can motivate and move ideas to action. Improving any practice, he notes, involves answering three questions: Why? How? and What?

Sinek advocates beginning with the why, the inner and golden circle, and then proceeding to the other two in turn. Adopting Sinek’s approach, Questioning for Formative Feedback offers new ways of thinking about quality questioning, beginning with the why.

 ►Why is quality questioning key to student learning?

I used to think the purpose of questioning was to increase student engagement and thinking. While I continue to believe these two are important, now I know the most important outcome of questioning can be formative feedback – feedback that moves student learning forward along a given learning progression. Why do I say can be? Because, as researchers remind us, feedback is not formative until students use it to advance their learning and, too often, our feedback fails to meet the mark or falls on disengaged ears.

What’s required for feedback to impact student learning? There are two prerequisites. First, teachers need to know where students are on a given learning progression while instruction is occurring. To surface this information, teacher questions must be aligned with the daily learning targets and students must connect to these questions both cognitively and emotionally. As Hattie and Zierer argue in 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning (2017), feedback from students to teachers is more important than teacher feedback to students.

Second, students must possess the skill and the will to understand and use questioning as a process that can support them in providing, seeking, and using feedback. Most students don’t arrive in our classroom with this capacity. Too many see themselves as passive recipients of teacher knowledge, not co-creators of their own. This suggests the need to more explicitly define expectations for students in a learning community.

 ►How can we define student roles & responsibilities in a formative classroom?

 Three roles characterize students who are skillful users of feedback and self-directed learners: self-assessor, knowledge constructor, and collaborative contributor. The graphic organizer below features each of these three together with associated responsibilities. In the book, I identify and describe the skills and dispositions required for student  monitoring and deepening of their own learning while contributing to their classmates’ understanding. When students develop the capacity to assume these roles and responsibilities, they truly become “leaders of their own learning,” the goal articulated by Ron Berger (2014).

Student Roles and Responsibilities in the Formative Classroom

Source: Questioning for  Formative Feedback, by Jackie A. Walsh, ASCD, 2022, p. 89.

What can teachers do to support new student roles & responsibilities?

Teachers can facilitate increased student engagement and responsibility by becoming more intentional in their design and facilitation of lessons intended to surface student thinking and dialogue. Quality questioning is the generator of thinking and a process that can stimulate and sustain thoughtful speaking. The resulting dialogue is the bridge between questioning and feedback.

Dialogue produces information that teachers can use to determine where to go next in teaching and learning, by answering this question: Do students require reteaching or additional practice, or will well-formulated feedback enable them to correct their errors or misconceptions – or take their learning to the next level?

Breakthroughs in learning occur when teachers ask and answer this question during daily lessons and are able to sustain interactions with their students. This is the essence of reciprocal feedback, the two-way process that provides the teacher and students real-time data to advance student learning.

Questioning and dialogue support reciprocal feedback in classrooms where teachers partner with students to create cultures where students are comfortable speaking – even when uncertain of the correctness of their response. In these learning cultures, students learn from wrong answers – and they learn with and from one another.

This Fall: Questioning, Dialogue, and Formative Feedback!

The coming school year’s PCN experience will afford members choice in focus for professional learning and transfer to classrooms. Questioning, dialogue, and formative feedback are powerful drivers of teaching and learning. These three processes are interrelated. They also offer multiple entry points for improving student learning. I look forward to feedback from PCN participants about their exploration of Questioning for Formative Feedback. I am truly excited to be a part of the networks’ learning journeys!

For PCN Schedule and Registration Information:
[email protected]

Jackie Acree Walsh is an independent consultant and author based in Montgomery, Alabama. She partners with educators across the country to enhance teaching and leading in classrooms, schools, and districts through the use of quality questioning. She has authored or coauthored eight books and numerous articles focused on questioning. Her most recent books include Questioning for Formative Feedback: Meaningful Dialogue to Improve Learning (ASCD, 2022) and Empowering Students as Questioners (Corwin, 2021).