I’ve already linked to this post on my Delicious account (you can see the latest five links in the sidebar, or follow the Twitter account where I post my links). However, as it is such a superb post, I wanted to recommend it here. Within it, Fred Sanders discusses how to ask a good question and lists a number of dichotomies that can help us to do just that. Here are a few:
Low level questions only require students to repeat information, perhaps to rephrase it. But High level questions require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the information (I’m using “low” and “high” loosely, but see Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectivesfor a widespread definition).
Information retrieval questions get short, factual answers (“Who is Athena’s mother?”). Information evaluation questions presuppose information retrieval, and usually get the short, factual answer thrown in as the student hurries on to the evaluative task (“Is Athena like her mother?”). Info-retrieval questions are usually best used in a series that are leading somewhere.
Convergent questions imply one right answer (“What is the main idea of this book?”); Divergent questions suggest a range of possibilities (“What are some of the most important things in this book?”).
Unstructured questions do not indicate what form the answer should take (“What did you think of Paradise Lost?”); Structured questions dictate the right form of response (“What is a new idea you got from Milton?” “What makes you mad in Paradise Lost?”)
Multiple questions offer many questions at once, so the real question is “Which of my questions do you want to use?” (“Why does God choose certain people for his purposes?Was he not dealing with individuals before Genesis 11? What’s special about Abraham?Does the text say why Abraham was chosen by God?”) Singular questions present a sheer cliff by comparison (“Why did God choose Abraham?”). Singular questions usually produce some silence from students. Multiple questions are a way for the tutor to fill up gaps in the conversation, to seed the clouds, and to check several prospects at once.
These are just the first few. Take the time to read the rest of his post, especially if you are an educator. It is exceptionally helpful.
Asking a good question is an underappreciated skill. As we so often take our questions for granted, we are unaware of how the questions that we ask shape our thought. The art of asking good questions demands deep and sustained attentiveness to the reality that we are questioning. While the wrong question forces reality into an obscuring framework, the right question can beautifully unfold it.
Several years ago, I consciously changed the way that I approached Scripture. In my earlier approach, I had brought what I presumed to be natural questions to the text and had expected the text to answer them. I stopped doing this and started to practice attentiveness to the text instead. Rather than just looking to the Scriptures for the answers to my questions, I began also to look to the Scriptures for the questions that I should be asking. One of the first things that dawned upon my awareness as I took this approach was just how bad, misleading, and wrong many of the questions I had previously depended upon were.
A good exercise to stop us from taking our questions for granted is to devote an hour to thinking about the best questions that arise from a particular biblical text. This exercise requires a very different kind of attentiveness to the text than answer-based study does.