Saturday, November 19, 2016

Inquiry: Framing Research Questions & the QFT

Two new teachers approached us and began the conversation by saying: "We remembered how you
said that you are willing to help with anything we are doing in class."

"YES!" we said in response. "That is what we do! How can we help?"

So we are preparing to work with four classes of juniors who are embarking on a research paper. This paper is a common assessment for the junior English classes so this is a pilot for an approach we could replicate in other classes. We were asked to help with narrowing topics, developing research questions, locating and annotating sources, accurate citations,... this is what we do!

The course Essential Question that will guide the focus of the students' research is: How does social class impact opportunity in modern American society? The students have already been asked to identify subtopics that can be explored in the context of this question. They have identified: Education, Immigration, Marriage, Health Care, and Ethnicity

We decided that the QFT (Question Formulation Technique) outlined in Make Just One Change by the Right Question Institute was the perfect avenue for both topic focusing and question refinement. During our Professional Learning day at the beginning of the month one of the workshops faculty members could attend was about inquiry and how to use the QFT so this is a perfect application of that learning!

We will remind the students that research requires lots of questions, all different types of questions. Essentially, all research (regardless of the form of the final product) is the process of asking questions, finding answers, asking new questions, finding new answers, and so on until you reach a satisfying, defensible, unique understanding.

Here are the steps they will take:

1. Start by exploring your Q-Focus (more on this in a bit)

  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Don’t stop to discuss or judge or answer
  • Write each question as it was stated
  • Change any statements into questions

2. Now improve your questions

  • Sort your Q’s into two categories:
  • Rewrite a closed question to be open-ended. 
  • Then rewrite an open question to be closed.

3. Prioritize

  • Select your top THREE questions that your group thinks best explore the topic of your research.
  • Share these questions with the class

The key to the whole process is a well-selected Qfocus. For each of the sub-topics identified by the classes, we are brainstorming and discussing the most appropriate Qfocus. We need things that the students can understand, that will challenge their thinking and assumptions, that will inspire divergent thinking. Here is what we are considering:

  • Education: PSAT scores from an anonymous student
  • Immigration: a foreign birth certificate, a green card
  • Marriage: we are still discussing this one (please share ideas if you have any!)
  • Health Care: data on health care access disparity
  • Ethnicity: this cartoon about white privilege or Peggy McIntosh's checklist

By working through the QFT protocol, students will be able to narrow the focus of their research, determine their guiding research question, and identify the sub-questions it will be necessary for them to answer in order to develop a thesis about their main question.

Next steps: working with the students to find, vet, and annotate sources! Stay tuned! 

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