The scenario: A teacher is sitting with several children having snack, and the teacher asks a student, “What are you going to be for Halloween?”
Is this question open-ended or closed-ended?
Have you ever debated the defintion of an open-ended question? What is the definition of an open-ended question? We talk about them a lot in reference to the CLASS tool, but do we define them? In a recent debate over the scenario above, I considered the question open-ended, while my colleague did not.
We discussed some of the reasons it may not be open-ended. For one thing, the question the teacher asked started with the word, “What.” Secondly, the child could answer with one word, such as “Ninja Turtle.” Finally, the teacher may already know the answer. But, I'd argue that there's more to think about when it comes to defining open-ended questions.
Let’s start with the word “what.” There are times when “what-questions" are very closed-ended. They include questions such as, “What color is your shirt?”, “What shape is this?”, “What is this?” (pointing to a picture), or “What letter makes the /huh/ sound?” These really are closed-ended questions with answers limited to one-word responses (red, diamond, a cat, H).
However, the questions “What do you think this book will be about?”, “What happened?”, “What do you think?”, or even “What did you have for breakfast?” prompt children to “...put together words to communicate more language overall or potentially more complex ideas” (Toddler CLASS Manual, pg. 60).
You probably often look to the manual for guidance. The Toddler CLASS Manual defines open-ended questions as, “...opportunities to respond to the teacher using more than one word, or any type of complex language (e.g., using descriptor words or prepositions)...teachers may pose questions for which the answer is unknown [but] questions may also have a known answer” (pg. 60).
The pre-K and K-3 CLASS Manuals state, “Open-ended questions are those that invite elaborate responses...Often, these are questions for which the answer is unknown [however] questions may have a known answer” (pg. 79). Note here that teachers amy already know the answer to the question posed.
It is also important to note that while open-ended questions may not be a question at all. They might just be a statement. An open-ended statement may sound like, “Tell your friends about your visit to the dentist, Hunter!”, “Tell me about your picture...”, or even “Share your story with the group, Tanieshia.” Notice how these statements initiated by the teacher invite children to respond elaborately.
It is also helpful to think about what a classroom would look like in the low-range for open-ended questions. When classrooms measure in the low-range, observers should note that students rarely, if ever, have opportunities to respond to the teacher with more complex language.
As observers, I think it is helpful to note the phrase “invites elaborate responses” by the indicator “Open-ended questions.” This will prompt you to think beyond the word “requires” in your behavior markers.
Many participants in CLASS Observation Trainings ask if it's okay to judge whether a question is open-ended or not by the children's answers. I say yes and no.
Remember that teachers asking open-ended questions/statements is only the first piece. They must also give students to respond to the questions. If our teacher in the scenario asked a lot of questions, including open-ended questions, but never gave children a chance to respond, then usually I would score that in the mid-range.
While I must ask myself if the teacher gave the student a chance to respond, the student may say “...a scary black cat with a big tail!” The student may also go one to excitedly share what his sibling was going to be for Halloween as well.
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
In construction, a scaffold is a temporary structure used by workers to access heights and areas that are hard to get to. This is exactly what educators are doing when they scaffold for students. A student is having a hard time reaching a new height—understanding a concept, answering a question, or completing an activity—and the teacher provides just enough support to allow the student to succeed.
As I entered my 15th year of teaching young children and supporting adult learners, I found myself searching for answers. Answers to why CLASS implementation was so difficult, why teacher buy-in was such a challenge, and why long-term improvement seemed impossible. In my role as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I’m constantly checking the data. Data drives instruction, instruction drives learning, learning drives comprehension, and comprehension equals success!
Young children are naturals at analysis and reasoning. They want to understand. They want to solve problems, experiment, and compare. And we can help them!
First, let’s look at what Analysis and Reasoning means. To analyze is to look closely or examine, and to reason means to form conclusions or inferences based on what we know or experience. Every time a preschooler asks questions, predicts, classifies, compares, or evaluates, they are practicing analysis and reasoning skills.