Which of the following is not an easy way to ask a question?
d) Both (b) and (c)
My colleague and I worked with a friendly, middle school student, who had language-learning challenges. In the classroom, the students read classic and modern novels with regular quizzes (characters, setting, events, etc.). The teacher met with us to share her concerns. Although the student was generally able to understand the novels, he often failed the quizzes because he didn't understand the format of the questions.
Assessment measures frequently include varied question types. Even when the content and the knowledge measured remains constant; the question format affects the difficulty level:
• Inclusivity: Identify all items that fit within a specified group based on a shared characteristic.
o “Circle all of the animals.”
o “Which of the following are animals.”
• Exclusivity: Identify items, which would be excluded from a group. Determine the key trait of one group (inclusive group), and contrast the characteristics of the inclusive group with the characteristics of other items.
o “Circle everything except the animals.”
o “All of the following are animals except:”
• Negation: Negation, a form of exclusivity, is about recognizing shared category members and non-members.
o “Circle everything that is not an animal.”
o “Which of the following are not animals.”
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With exclusivity and negation questions, there is only one added word that signifies non-belonging (except, not, never, etc.).
We wanted to increase the student’s understanding of negation questions. At the next session, I used picture cards of familiar entities/objects with high contrast, starting with “deer” and “boat”. We brainstormed characteristics for each item using a T-chart. For “deer”, we listed: “animal, tail, antlers, prey”, and for “boat”: “sails, lake, water, ride on it”. We made a field of two possible choices with specific traits for each choice.
Keeping the T-chart in front of us, we took turns asking questions in negative forms, following initial modeling: “I want one of the two cards. I’m going to ask you for the card I want in a tricky way. I’m going to tell you what I DON’T want, and then you will know which card I really DO want. Give me the one that does NOT have sails.”
We then moved to general knowledge questions, which used negation, presenting a hierarchy of question types with instructions about how to interpret each question:
• “Is a ball round?” – yes/no question
• “What shape is a ball?” – Wh-question with single word answer for a known fact
• “What shape is NOT the shape of a ball?” – Identify the known fact (round shape) and then generate an answer within the same category (shapes), which does not meet the criteria (shape of a ball).
Categorization, category members/titles, descriptors, and key traits, are common areas for language intervention. We frequently focus on inclusivity. We can expand categorization by teaching exclusivity, negation, and non-belonging. All of our early lessons about grouping shared items become the basis for answering higher-level complex questions. Answering questions correctly includes knowing what is wanted, as well as what is not wanted.