Emmett Dziuk, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
Abstract: Student-generated questions can be a very helpful tool in any classroom. Students create questions to help show their understanding and learning of a subject. These questions can be used in many different ways as teaching tools such as questions being created by students and then included as a part of exams, creation of questions to gauge interest in a subject and help direct what is learned or they can even be used to help review and practice for an upcoming exam or quiz. The use of student-generated questions has been found to promote learning and interest when it is implemented as part of the teaching curriculum.
Keywords: student-generated questions, teaching/learning strategies, active learning, summative assessment
As a first time teacher there are many decisions that have to be made as a teacher enters into the school year and plan teaching strategies. One of the many important things a teacher must decide when creating and enhancing their curriculum is how will they assess and promote their students’ learning. This in and of itself can be a monstrous task. There are many different ways that a student’s learning can be assessed and even more strategies are out there for promoting learning. Another important task that teachers must accomplish is finding a way to get students interested in what they are learning. The use of student-generated questions in education can be used to promote learning and interest in topics as well as be used to assess learning.
What are Student-Generated Questions?
Student-generated questions are questions created by students to help demonstrate their understanding of the material being covered. These are not simply clarifying questions that a student comes up with when they are confused about a topic. These are often considered questions with specific answers based from the material, similar to ones that would be found on an exam or quiz. Various types of questions that can be created are multiple choice, true and false, fill-in-the-blank, short answer or essay questions. Student-generated questions can be used in a variety of ways. Some examples of possible use are questions being embedded into an exam or quiz, used as a helpful tool for practice or even used as a way to promote interest in the subject.
Incorporation of Student-Generated Questions in Exams
In almost every classroom, the main form of evaluation for the material being taught is through exams or quizzes. However, researchers say: “Our education system has transitioned into a passive learning environment because of all the new technology available for distraction” (Sanchez-Elez et al., 2013). Students now commonly sit in classrooms using their phones or listening to music instead of paying attention to the information being presented. This unfortunately sets up the too often typical cycle for students to cram before a test and then forget everything right after the test. Cramming may bring a passing grade, but it does not facilitate long-term learning. Student-generated questions can be used to help get students more involved in the process of evaluation (Sanchez-Elez et al., 2013). The uses of these questions are also very easily integrated into a regular exam or quiz without much effort made by the teacher (Lam, 2014). This strategy helps promote involvement by creating discussions over what relevant materials should or should not be on an exam (Sanchez-Elez et al., 2013). It also provides motivation when students see that their questions are being used on their exams (Sanchez-Elez et al., 2013). Another morale booster about exams is that if each student creates a question and it is used on an exam then they should at least know how to answer one question. This strategy can help create active student participation but unfortunately not all students may take creating student-generated questions seriously and therefore they may not benefit as much as other students who do actively participate (Lam, 2014). It was found in a study on this strategy that the students that used student-generated questions often had higher grades and that the students that were more involved in the process had better results on the exams or quizzes (Sanchez-Elez et al., 2013).
Incorporation of Student-Generated Questions for Practice
Student-generated questions can also be used for practicing material. One article discusses the use of student-generated questions to help gauge and determine interest in certain topics (Davis, 2013). This helps to lead interest by getting students to ask questions regarding what they are curious to learn about and then covering what the students have shown interest in during the lesson (Davis, 2013). Using this strategy enables students to make connections to things that they are interested in as well as keep them interested in what they need to learn (Davis, 2013). This article also found that using this strategy helps shift the classroom to a more learner-centered instruction rather than teacher-centered instruction which helps improve learning in the students (Davis, 2013). Davis (2013) also argues that this strategy creates a stronger connection between the student and the topic and therefore allows the student to better remember the material. A study by Foos (1989) looked at whether practicing writing questions before an exam would be beneficial to students. The study had some students practice writing multiple-choice questions or essay questions and some that did not (Foos, 1989). It was found that the students that practiced writing questions before the exam performed significantly better than those students that did not practice writing questions at all (Foos, 1989). The values of those that wrote multiple-choice versus essay questions were also compared and there was no difference between those two groups and how well they ended up doing on the exam (Foos, 1989).
Benefits and Concerns of Using Student-Generated Questions in the Curriculum
Unfortunately with every teaching strategy there are always some students that do not benefit because it is just not how they learn. This strategy, along with all teaching strategies, comes with some doubts and concerns as to how it affects and helps the students. A possible downside to the use of student-generated questions is if it is relied on too heavily students could memorize all the questions and answers instead of learning and understanding the material (Lam, 2014). Another concern raised is whether or not students can create questions that are actually of good quality. Contrary to what may be thought about the quality of student-generated questions, one study found that students were able to create questions that were equivalent to those created by teachers (Yu & Chen, 2013). This study compared and contrasted using three test groups: one that created student-generated questions but did not practice answering them, a second group developed student-generated questions combined with answering teacher-generated questions and a third group that created student-generated questions and then answered these created questions (Yu & Chen, 2013). It was found that the most beneficial combination for learning for the students was the combination of student-generated questions and teacher-generated questions (Yu & Chen, 2013). These results are thought to be found because this allows for the teacher to balance the coverage over all the material covered by filling in the gaps that may be present in uneven coverage of student-generated questions (Yu & Chen, 2013). Using student-generated questions in the classroom has been shown to increase comprehension of material, increase motivation, increase positive attitudes about the material and promote active learning behavior (Yu & Chen, 2013). To gain the most from this strategy this study recommends that student-generated questions be combined with regular teacher-generated questions to avoid memorization of material and uneven coverage of the material (Yu & Chen, 2013).
The use of student-generated questions is a teaching strategy that is often unheard of and underused. The studies previously discussed how student-generated questions could be beneficial if included as a part of the teaching curriculum. Student-generated questions can be implemented in various ways. Questions can be used for practice and review or alternatively can be incorporated in exams or quizzes. It can benefit students by promoting interest in the subjects covered and helping them connect the material to something for which they have a passion. The use of this strategy can also allow students to feel more involved in the evaluation of their learning when these questions are used in the exams and quizzes. This strategy may not help every student, but it has been shown to help students that put a thoughtful effort into the creation of questions.
Sanchez-Elez, M., Pardines, I., Garcia, P.,Miñana, G., Roman, S., Sanchez, M., & Risco, J. (2013). Enhancing Students’ Learning Process Through Self-Generated Tests. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 15-25.
Lam, R. (2014). Can student-generated test materials support learning? Studies in Educational Evaluation, 43, 95-108.
Davis, T. A. (2013). Connecting Students to Content: Student-Generated Questions. Bioscene, 39(2), 32-34.
Foos, P. W. (1989). Effects of Student-Written Questions on Student Test Performance. Teaching Of Psychology, 16(2), 77-78.
Yu, F-Y., & Chen, Y-J. (2013). Effects of student-generated questions as the source of online drill-and-practice activities on learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(2), 316-329.