About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Inquiry Update: Refining the Questions and Keywords

In my last post I wrote about our preparation for using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) designed by the Right Question Institute to inspire and focus high school juniors for writing their research papers. They are writing this paper at the conclusion of reading The Great Gatsby; the unit essential question is: how does socioeconomic status affect opportunity in modern America? When I wrote my last post, we were collecting and reviewing possible artifacts to serve as a Q-focus for the classes. Ultimately, we chose to provide several and allow the students to choose which focus to use and with which students to work. Their Q-focus options were:

  • the strategic school profile for a nearby high school that is very different than our school
  • an expired green card
  • a birth certificate in both English and Spanish issued in Mexico
  • a photograph of five members of the St. Louis Rams entering the stadium with their hands up
  • a data visualization of household income gap by race
  • another data table about education levels among married black women
  • data about health care access by race adjusted for income

We used these slides to explain the QFT protocol. They were projected around the room while students worked so they could refer to the directions as their groups collaborated on each task. As students sorted and rewrote their closed and open questions, they collected their questions on a pair of slides dedicated to their group's Q-focus. Here is an example from one of the four classes that used this process. All of this was completed just before the Thanksgiving long weekend. Today we returned to school and the students in all four classes working with us on this research paper submitted the current draft of their research question for us to review. Their questions address a vast array of current sociopolitical issues. Certainly they still need refinement, but students are beginning to narrow their focus to a topic of interest that is potent in the U.S. today. Here is a selection of the (unedited) questions the students are asking:


  • How does affirmative action impact minorities? 
  • Does gender affect a persons income? Why do blacks have a lower income than whites/ does race affect a persons income?
  • How does race and wealth impact the type and level of education you can receive 
  • How does geographical setting affect health care accessibility for adults?
  • How might a persons socioeconomic status directly affect their access to quality healthcare?
  • How can racial bias in the judicial system affect the way a case is treated?
  • How does poverty impact the learning and culture of a school body as a whole in terms of absences, disciplinary actions, and Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL)?
  • How has the Affordable Care Act impacted people with lower socioeconomical [sic] status?
  • How does the justice system affect imprisonment of the lowest social classes?
  • What causes the tremendous inequality in educational oppurtunity [sic] in America?
  • Why are crime rates higher amongst the lower class?
  • How does ones socioeconomic status affect the severity of their mental health?
  • How does income inequality affect rates of incarceration for different social classes?
  • How heavily does education influence the likelyhood [sic] of achieving a stable, lucrative career?
  • How does race effect the odds of immigrants achieving well paying stable careers?
  • "How do the living conditions and locations of adolescents contribute to their level of education?"
  • How has the war on drugs affected people's ability to rise from poverty?
  • How does the constant factor of social class diversity affect the quality of education in a child's lifetime?
  • Why is the education gap in America growing? and how can we close the gap and have an equal education standard across the US?
  • Why are there a lot of college drop outs
  • How do the economic circumstances of ones birth dictate their potential, as opposed their talent and hard work?
  • How does social class affect parenting?
  • Does race affect the amount of college dropouts?
  • How do financial issues lead to high dropout rates in college?


Clearly these questions still need refinement. We are pleased that students have started to branch their thinking into aspects of American society and historical issues that they were not able to consider before we introduced the QFT to them. Our next step is to help students begin generating keywords for searching our databases and print collection for information about their topic. We believe that once they start listing terms relevant to their question, they will begin to see the possibilities for refining and focusing their questions to better fit the constraints of a five page paper.

That is tomorrow's plan. We are going to ask them to examine the entire list of collected questions from the four participating classes and copy into a document any of the questions that they think explores the topic they are trying to research. Then the students will begin compiling a list of key terms that are related to their topic and their questions. We will provide them instruction on the value of key terms including how to use them in searches:

  • Boolean Logic (and, or, not)
  • Truncation and Wildcards (*, ?)

Then we will ask the students to resume compiling their lists and then revising their questions, ultimately choosing one question to sustain their research. Stay tuned to see how this unfolds.

For those of you interested in updates on the research project using Google My Maps, we are getting ready to introduce it so more on that will be coming soon, too!

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