How to ask Simple Questions

“The simple is championed and harnessed for the ultimate success of student learning.”

Ever wonder why walking through the Apple store is so much fun? It champions the modernist architectural and design style; clean and functional in every way. Apple’s stylistic innovation is reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement, architectural developments in the German Weimar era, and Ikea. The overt minimalism is apparent in every streamlined corner and transparent panel. The success of this enterprise is achieved through the simple, and there’s a valuable lesson to be learned.

Bauhaus Movement
Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany; birthplace of Modernist architecture and design


Rebecca Alber, instructor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, reflects on the 5 Power Questions Teachers can Ask Students. She talks about the paradigm that helps students learn, which is the same that helped propel Apple to prominence: simplicity. Simply worded questions is often more effective than those intricate. She encourages newer teachers (and those more seasoned) to ask questions, provide reflection time, and to allow the students to speak and be heard. Alber specifies how to ask simple questions:

1) What do you think?

2) Why do you think that?

3) How do you know this?

4) Can you tell me more?

5) What questions do you still have?

While these questions may seem foundational and a process that every teacher should know, they are a set of guidelines that increase participation and student engagement. Allowing the students to have their voice heard gives them opportunity to take ownership of the material and functions in the classroom. The student that puts their hand up and shares their thoughts has a stakeholder interest in exploring if their thoughts were correct. Asking open-ended questions like “what do you think?” offers an interruption from the teacher divulging all the information and introduces a space for student voice and understanding. These types of questions allow for scaffolding to other pedagogical styles and dissemination of information.

How to ask simple questions
Modern Minimalist Ikea Bedroom


Questions like “why?” bring pedagogy back to the basics. It revisits how the intricate was created and introduces a forum of reflection and comprehension. The Ontario Ministry of Education (Canada) published a document, Growing Success: Assessment,Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools, covering acceptable assessment practices in grades 1 – 12. Growing Success differentiates assessment for learning and assessment as learning, with the former being a process by which teachers can provide students with descriptive feedback and coaching for improvement. Assessment as learning indicates how teachers can help all students develop their capacity to be independent, autonomous learners who are able to set individual goals, monitor their own progress, determine next steps, and reflect on their thinking and learning. Asking the simple, open-ended questions help implement and inform the assessment for and as learning processes.

For the student it allows peer ideas to be communicated and validated, resulting in the understanding of the current knowledge or the creation of the new. For the teacher, the simplicity of these questions offer valuable insight into the thought processes of the students, offering a gauge of their current understanding and areas of improvement. The line of simple questioning is not the only way teachers can achieve the goal of assessment. There are a variety of means including formal and informal observations, discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences, homework, tasks done in groups, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer and self-assessments, self-reflections, essays, and tests.

Apple Store
Apple Store; note the minimalist (simple) and universal design


In the same way that Apple achieves its success, so too can teachers in the classroom. Teachers can create and maintain the successful classroom using the line of questioning Alber mentions in her article and that the Ministry of Education in Ontario encourages.

The streamlined functionality and efficiency of the Apple store can be transposed to the environment that teachers promote through the subscription of simplicity and transparency. Like Apple, the simple is championed and this harnessed for the ultimate success of student learning.

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