Process Questions to Encourage Critical Thinking

Chapter five of “Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice” (Hargie, 2006) looks at the use of questions in a large variety of contexts. The main purposes of the chapter were to explain the many forms a question can take and the purposes these forms serve. It also explains how the questioner in an interaction generally controls the interaction and how the question is asked affects the answer. Interestingly, it examines the power dynamics that are at play when a question is asked, for instance the difference in response when a question is asked by a doctor as opposed to a peer.

I was particularly interested in the section about using process questions in a classroom setting. Process questions are defined by Hargie (2006, p.132) as questions which “require the respondent to use some higher mental process in order to respond. This may involve giving opinions, justifications, judgements or evaluations, making predictions, analysing information, interpreting situations or forming generalisations.” Recall questions, where a student’s response involves remembering a fact they may have committed to memory, or rote-learned, have their place in the classroom – for instance because the teacher maintains control over how much time it takes to answer the question – however the use of a process question will encourage a student to think and explore a topic in a deeper manner.

The acquiesce effect can come in to play when a student is asked a simple recall question, which refers to a respondent’s tendency to attempt to predict the direction in which a question is heading while the question is still being asked – for instance in the case of The Moses Illusion where subjects asked, “How many of each type of animal did Moses take on the ark?” generally reply “two,” even though it was Noah that built the ark in the story (Erickson and Mattson, 1981).

Taking care to use process questions in the classroom could help avoid this sort of automatic response, therefore encouraging the student or students to think critically about the subject they are studying and not simply remember certain facts and figures.