Thursday, April 9, 2015

Is there a C.R.Q. 0 - or Should There Be One?

Should there be a C.R.Q. 0?
That was a question posed to me today from a teacher during a professional development training I was conducting for teachers who worked at the Santa Clara County of Education Community Schools. I was in the middle of explaining my Questions 4 Cognitive Rigor template that I developed to help teachers organize and scaffold their questioning. I was explaining how the template was structured in the following manner:
  • C.R.Q.1 questions inform students of what are the facts they must acquire and gather in order to think deeply about what they are learning.
  • C.R.Q.2 questions focus on the standards by challenging and engaging students to think deeply about how and why does the information be processed into deeper knowledge and thinking.
  • C.R.Q.3 questions expand students' knowledge and extend their thinking further by asking how can knowledge, understanding, and awareness be transferred and used in a variety of circumstances and contexts.
  • C.R.Q.4 questions ask students to think critically and creatively about how they can convey what do you think, believe, or feel; express what is your opinion, perspective, or thoughts; or share what can you create, design, develop, plan, or produce using what they have learned.
The purpose of this template is for teachers to organize their questions so students can process the information they have acquired and gathered into knowledge and thinking they can transfer and use to address and respond to a variety of circumstances and situations in-depth, insightfully, and in their own unique way. The questions are called cognitive rigor questions - or C.R.Q.s - because they challenge and engage students to demonstrate and communicate the depth of their knowledge and thinking.
For years, I have been training schools and teachers on how to use this template to organize and scaffold instruction through inquiry and questioning. However, today, I was asked the good question by a teacher stated at the beginning of this blog post, "Should there be a C.R.Q.-0?"
Immediately, I asked the question I have become known to ask whenever I want someone to clarify their response: "What do you mean?"
The teacher explained how a C.R.Q.0 could be a good question that asks students to share what they already know, understand, or are aware of the concept and content that they are going to learn. She did not see where there was a section in the Questions 4 Cognitive Rigor template to determine background knowledge and was wondering whether there should be a C.R.Q.0 that does not ask what do you need to know, understand, do, or think but rather what do you already know, understand, or are aware of this concept or content you're about to learn.
To be honest, I never thought about designating a category of a C.R.Q.0 that can serve as a check for background knowledge or understanding. In fact, I really never thought about checking for background knowledge and understanding because I associated those questions as more evaluative while the C.R.Q.s I developed were more instructional, driving as well as assessing learning.
However, the idea of a C.R.Q.0 does intrigue me, and for most of today I have been wrapping my head around providing a C.R.Q.0 category that teachers can use not only to determine but also drive what students already know, understand, and are aware of concepts and content.
The C.R.Q.s I developed were derived from the concept of cognitive rigor developed by Karin Hess, Dennis Carlock, Ben Jones, and John Walkup (2009) that aligned Bloom's Revised Taxonomy with Webb's four levels of Depth-of-Knowledge. Walkup addressed the idea of is there a D.O.K.-0 in his blog. He suggests how these activities are "pseudo-challenging" or "appear intellectually challenging" (Walkup, 2015). However, from the description of the task Dr. Walkup describes- baking a cake resembling a cell - it seems as if this task would qualify more as a D.O.K.-1 in that is asks students to recall and reproduce information but in a creative manner.
In regards to C.R.Q.'s, that activity would be a C.R.Q.4. However, the task would be prompted by asking either how could you bake a cake that details the structure and discusses the functions of the parts a cell or even how could you construct a model or graphic representation that details the parts of a cell and their function?
While the C.R.Q.'s I have developed are derived from Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge, these questions focus more on how students can express and share their knowledge and thinking. The depth of their knowledge, thinking, and disposition depends upon how they are expected to demonstrate and communicate their learning. C.R.Q.1's ask students what is the information. C.R.Q.2's ask how can an answer be attained using the information. C.R.Q.3's ask how and why can the information be used to attain a particular response or result. C.R.Q.4's ask what else can you do with the information.
So why not include a C.R.Q.0 that asks what do you already know, understand, and are aware of the information?
Am I going to include a C.R.Q.0 category to the Questions 4 Cognitive Rigor? That's not for me to decide. That's up to you. If you think a C.R.Q.0 would provide students with a deeper educational experience and engage them to think deeply as well as express and share the depth of their knowledge, thinking, and disposition, then I say go for it.
After all, it's your lesson and your students. I'm just providing a tool you can use and a means to challenge and engage your students. What you do with it is up to you.
Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is the lead professional education specialist and owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development and consultation on teaching and learning for cognitive rigor. His book Now THAT'S a Good Question! Questions for Cognitive Rigor will be published by ASCD in November 2015. For more information on this topic or how to receive professional development at your site, please visit

Lesson Planning by What's Happening or Trending in the World

One of the things I often hear from the educators with whom I work is about the curriculum they are using or the lack of curriculum they have to address the cognitive rigor of college and career ready standards.  They often express their concern about the resources provided to them and how they do not seem to be aligned to the standards even though the textbook publishers proclaim they are.  They also discuss how they do not have the curriculum that truly reflects the kind of questions their students will encounter and experience on the PARCC or SBAC assessments.
However, what if I told you that lessons can be derived and planned just by checking what's trending on Yahoo! or watching the news this morning?
It's 5:15 am as I write this, and I am in my hotel room in Lake Havasu, AZ, (not on vacation) watching the news and surfing the net before I get ready to work with one of my schools for the day.  I go on Yahoo! and I see this is article the lead article on the page:
Immediately, I'm thinking about how this would be a great lesson to teach today in school and how I wish I had a classroom where I could have the students read not only this article but also other articles and editorials that are currently appearing on the internet discussing this topic.  Though I don't have a classroom to teach, I do immediately take out my cognitive rigor questions and decide to make some Daily Good Questions as if I would be teaching this today.
The first thing I think about is what is the topical good question that the article addresses.  I also want students to expand their knowledge and extend their thinking about the content, ideas, and messages presented in the article.
Then I check the Next Generation Science Standards and the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards to determine what overarching concepts and standards could be addressed in this lesson.
I also consider the universal ideas and themes the article and its subject matter broach.
Then I think about what exactly would I want my students to do with the information they have read.
This is what I came up with  - and it only took me approximately 15 minutes not including the time it took to read the article.
Now I not only have a standards-driven lesson for the day but also a student-centered experience that has students thinking deeply about the ideas and information stated in the article as well as expressing and sharing their own knowledge, thinking, and disposition about what they have read.
This is the benefit of teaching and learning for cognitive rigor.  It allows us educators to provide our students deeper educational experiences that stimulate their thinking and deepen their knowledge, understanding, and awareness not only about concepts and content but also the academic standards they must meet and exceed.  It also provides us educators to expand our students' knowledge and extend their thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom to recognize and realize the relevance of the academic skills and subjects they are learning.
We don't need to be beholden to the curriculum packages and textbooks provided to us.  All we need to do is consider the connection between academic concepts and real world circumstances.  This can be done not only in the literary based courses such as English language arts and history / social studies but also the mathematical and scientific courses that are more conceptual and procedural.  Consider the following example that involves using the Pythagorean Theorem.
This is a topical good question that was derived directly from the Mathematics Common Core State Standards - specifically CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.G.B.7.  The images were found from an image search I conducted looking for mathematical and real world problems involving the Pythagorean Theorem.  If I was to teach this lesson, I would ask my students to address and respond to the topical good question and choose to solve either 2 mathematical and 1 real world problem or 1 mathematical and 2 real world problems to use as their evidentiary support in their response.  They are still "doing the math" by solving these problems.  However, they are also thinking mathematically about how can the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse be used to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles and express and share their response using some form of oral, written, creative, or technical communication.
Again, this was all planned using the internet as well my own curiosity, interest. imagination, and wonder about the concepts and content I would be teaching.
So before we go to bed or as we wake up in the morning, take a moment to read the paper, watch the news, or search the internet - or even have the news playing in the background.  Look and listen what's going on in the world.  Think about how it relates to what you are teaching or how it could address the standards.  Then make those good questions that will not only stimulate students' thinking and deepen their knowledge, understanding, and awareness but also expand their knowledge, extend their thinking, and pique their curiosity, imagination, interest, and wonder.
That's what good questions do, and it can be easy and simple to provide students deeper educational experience if you ask good questions.
Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is the lead professional education specialist and owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development and consultation on teaching and learning for cognitive rigor. His book Now THAT'S a Good Question! Questions for Cognitive Rigor will be published by ASCD in November 2015. For more information on this topic or how to receive professional development at your site, please visit