Category Archives: Authentic Learning Opportunities

Designing Authentic Learning Opportunities to Support Engagement and Learning

ISTE Educator Standard 5

This week I decided to dive into ISTE Educator Standard 5, “Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability.” I wanted to explore the authentic learning activities and instructional design aspect from the indicators:

5b Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active deep learning.

5c Explore and apply instructional design principles to create innovative digital learning environments that engage and support learning.

The book Make Just One Change by Don Rothstein and Luz Santana explains a technique called they coined the Question Formation Technique which when facilitated empowers students to dive deep into desired content and generate their own questions, refine them, and prioritize their use. These questions can then be used by the teacher and students to guide future work. The Question Formation Technique teaches students the powerful skill of developing their own questions leading to student engagement, motivation as well as equipping them with the lifelong skill needed to be an involved, and informed citizen in our democratic society.

After reading the book I felt that the Question Formation Technique (QFT) which is created and facilitated by the teacher to align with content area standards (ISTE educator Standard 5b) is a very powerful learning tool to engage and support learning (ISTE Educator Standard 5c). In this blog post, I will summarize the QFT, and give some examples where I think digital tools or technology could enhance the process. I will also outline how I plan on trying out this technique with my students and our DEL cohort.

Summary of QFT

1.Choosing The Questions Focus:

The first step of QFT is to create the question focus for the class. It’s designed by the teacher with the teacher’s end goal is in mind. The question focus can come in the form of a statement or visual (it’s similar to a prompt). Its goal is to attract the student’s attention and stimulate them to formulate their own questions. It should be brief, focused, provocative and not reveal teacher preference or bias.

Examples of QF’s from the book:

  • The inside of a cell
  • Defeating math anxiety
  • The choices we make
  • The scientific method must be followed
  • Miranda Rights always protects the rights of the accused
  • The importance of transcendentalism in American history
  • Criteria for assessing the importance of a philosopher
  • Torture can be justified

2. Producing Questions:

The second step is for students to discuss the protocol they will use to discuss the question focus. Once that is done the teacher reveals the question focus and students generate their own questions. Students must use the protocol below to guide their work:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it was stated.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

The teacher invites students to ask all kinds of questions, students can work individually, in pairs, groups or as a class. The teacher may need to guide students when they are violating the protocol but generally, the teacher’s role is to listen and facilitate. One important takeaway I got from the book was the teacher should not help, comment or give feedback to students while they are generating questions. Generating questions last 5+ minutes and students can generate anywhere from 5-25 questions.

3. Improving Questions:

To improve upon questions students sort their questions; labeling them as opened (o) or closed (c) questions.

  • Open questions: They require an explanation and can’t be answered with one word.
  • Closed questions: They can be answered with yes or no with one word.

The teacher then leads the class through a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of both types of questions. The students then practice changing one of their open-ended questions into a closed-ended one and vice versa. The goal of this is to encourage students to think about the role and purpose of the questions and how manipulating it’s wording can affect the information and their needs.

4. Prioritizing:

Prioritizing the questions can be based on a variety of criteria. The teacher provides guidelines based on the end goal and asks students to agree upon which questions are their priority questions.

Examples of how a teacher might have students prioritize:

  • Choose the three most important questions.
  • Choose the three questions that most interest you.
  • Choose the three questinos that will best help you design your research topic.
  • Choose three testable questions.
  • Choose the three questinos that will best help you design your experiment.
  • Choose three questions that could help you narrow your research focus.
  • Choose three questions that you could start to research immediately.
  • Choose three questinos that you could use as a lens while you are reading.
  • Choose three questions to answer after you read or research.

This process invites students to analyze and compare their questions. It also helps them think about which will be the most helpful or effective to choose. Once students come to a consensus on their priority questions they should report them and their rationale for choosing the class.

The authors state, “recent research shows that the part of the brain most needed for wise decision- making- certainly informed by an ability to prioritize is not fully developed in adolescence.  Your students will need more chances to strengthen that muscle and part of the brain, not just for the classroom, but as a lifelong skill.” (Location 1568). I felt like this point is ever so important particularly while students are learning how to prioritize their time online in today’s digital world.

5. What To Do With The Questions:

The teacher gives directions on what is to be done with the priority questions. As a teacher, you should think of the purpose or goal of using QFT then give directions to your students.

Some examples of goals or purposes of QFT:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of themes in novels
  • Grapple with a phenomenon in science
  • Think deeply about upcoming projects before deciding on a specific topic
  • Use as a formative assessment
  • Write an essay
  • Research
  • Develop a project
  • Make a presentation
  • Prepare for class discussion
  • Independent study (genius hour)
  • Lens for a book or article
  • Guide for reading or thinking about a new assignment, subject or topic
  • Use in seminar
  • Prepare for tests
  • To guide teaching or refine lesson plans
  • To prepare for interviews

6. Reflection:

The final step engages students in the reflection process. The reflection can go down many different avenues; asking students to reflect on what they learned, how they learned it, new knowledge vs. prior knowledge, and how they can use what they’ve learned, both in terms of content and skills.

QFT Takeaways:

My overall takeaways from the book are that the QFT promotes:

  • Differentiated learning
  • Equity
  • Student engagement
  • Student voice
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Collaboration
  • Flexible thinking
  • Student motivation
  • Student ownership
  • Classroom management
  • Listening and communication skills
  • A deeper understanding of content
  • A deeper understanding of generating questions and their purpose

Clay Shirly a new-media scholar described QFT as a kind of “cognitive surplus” in the book saying that students, “wind up having acces to more knowledge than they could have obtained on their own.” (location 2758) Another teacher states that when first using QFT, “Both teacher and student experience a striking reversal of roles. It is a change so simple and yet so profound.” (location 2705).

Digital Opportunities:

I think that there are many opportunities to enhance QFT with digital tools or technology. Here are a few I’m thinking about:

  • Using Flipgrid, Seesaw, or digital storytelling to document reflection and or process to promote metacognition and reflection.
  • Using a Flipgrid, Seesaw, a blog or social media sites to pose questions and discuss ideas with others locally or globally.
  • Using QFT to launch into a project that is done digitally (research, essays, presentations)
  • Using questions to launch a Makerspace activity or STEM project.
  • To prepare for a virtual field trip or interview.

Trying This Out:

I’m excited to try out QFT in my own class before our virtual field trip and to facilitate my DEL grad school class. You can see my plans below!

3rd Grade Virtual Field Trip:

Subject: Social Studies

Class Size: 24

QFocus: “Native Americans Survival in the Plains”

Purpose: Our class has a virtual field trip to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West where students will learn how human needs and concerns are addressed within cultures and how the tipi was an important part of history to the Plains Native Americans. Students will generate questions to deepen their understanding of things needed to survive in the Plains and generate questions to think about or answer during our virtual field trip.

DEL Class:

Subject: Technology Education

Class Size: 8

Possible QFocus Statements:

  • Intentionally teaching digital citizenship
  • Raising responsible digital citizens
  • Building Empathy Online
  • Fostering Digital Literacy
  • Ensuring Student Saftey Online
    Using technology to foster student ownership
  • Using digital tools to enhance learning
  • Making learning meaningful with digital tools
  • Nurturing creativity through technology

Purpose: Our class will be learning about ISTE Educator Standard 3 and 6 and each person will be later researching and presenting on a chosen topic. Students will generate questions to deepen their understanding of the standards and use the questions as a lens when doing their research.


Rothstein, D., Santana, L., & Harvard University, G. S. of E. (2011). Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Harvard Education Press. Retrieved from