Who was the first prophet of the Jaredites? What are the first two beatitudes? Why did the Saints fail to implement the law of consecration in Missouri?
Ours is a church of students, classrooms, and teachers—and inevitably, questions, since questions are one of the basic tools of teachers and students. Yet, though we respond to, and ask, many questions, perhaps we need to ask ourselves some basic questions about questions. For example, as students, what are we learning—what are we thinking—when we respond to these questions: Who was the first man on the earth? What happened in Gethsemane of importance to you? What was the first revelation after the organization of the Church?
For a teacher, central questions about questions are: Do my questions teach? What do they teach? And do they motivate my students to positive conclusions, without provoking controversy? Unfortunately, some of us can leave classes without having really thought about the gospel principles discussed. And if we haven’t thought about them during the lesson, will we think about them very much during the week?
The purpose of gospel teaching is improvement and understanding—and questions can play an important role in this process. But how? A perplexed teenager once asked her new Sunday School teacher, “When are you going to stop asking questions and start teaching?”
Students of educational processes have discovered that our minds can operate on simple, mechanical thought levels or complex thinking levels—and that different kinds of questions can lead to different kinds of thoughts, even elevated thoughts! These levels of questions, with the corresponding levels of thinking, are treated in the following list: 1
1. Memory questions. The students are asked to recall or recognize information. Such questions require simple memorization: “When was the Church organized?” “How many witnesses recorded their names in the Book of Mormon?” While these may be important facts that every Church member should know, staying at this simple level of thinking will not add much spiritual insight.
2. Translation questions. Here students are asked to change the information into a different form or another symbolic representation. For example, the teacher might ask them to paraphrase (“put it into your own words”) or to role play (“act out this situation”). Or the teacher may ask younger children to “draw a picture” of what they’ve learned. Or show a picture and ask the children “What is happening in this picture?” Such questions require more thinking than do memory questions.
3. Interpretation questions. These questions help learners discover relationships among facts and generalizations. There are many opportunities for this type of question in Church teaching. You might ask, “Compare the Nephite and the Lamanite civilizations prior to the birth of the Savior” or “Contrast the lifestyle of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Comparison/contrast interpretation leads to careful consideration of details.
4. Application questions. Questions in this category (and also in categories five and six) ask the learner to solve problems. The student responding to an application question uses the knowledge he has been given (or is assumed to know) in solving problems. After a discussion of the wanderings of the tribes of Israel, for example, the teacher might ask, “How did the Lord prepare the Israelites for the promised land?” or “Why do you think the Ten Commandments were given when they were given instead of forty years earlier or later?”
5. Analysis questions. This, too, is a problem-solving category. Here, the learner must use “deductive” thinking skills. For example, students may be asked to analyze the reasoning in the following statement: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22.) Or they may be asked to assess the value of applying specific principles in their lives.
6. Synthesis questions. Here, the learner is asked to solve a problem that requires original, creative thinking. He often must devise an original plan of action: “How would you have reacted if you had been mistreated by your brothers as was Nephi?” Or, “How would you go about setting up a plan to provide welfare services on a worldwide basis?”
7. Evaluation questions. These questions require more thinking than any of the other six levels. In evaluative thinking, the individual must decide whether something is good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. After setting up the criteria for evaluation, he makes his judgment based on true gospel principles. “Why is it a good idea to stay morally clean?” A simple yes or no answer will not work; the why in the question asks for critical evaluation and judgment. The teacher of younger children might ask, “If you were going up in a space ship, would you choose Nephi or Laman as a companion? Why?”
As teachers plan their lessons with questions from the higher levels of thinking, they can expect their learners to come alive mentally. It may not happen the first or even the second time. (Our minds get into “ruts” sometimes and it is often more comfortable to stay on the safer, lower levels.) But as teachers persist in creating stimulating questions, learners will begin to catch the vision of new levels of thinking. They will begin to develop and define their own questions, conclusions, and judgments in the light of gospel knowledge. Then we all will come dose to fulfilling the purpose of gospel instruction—to change and better our lives.