I’ve been writing about the difference between thinking and mere remembering and wanted to provide some go to tactics for moving students towards thinking.
Let’s take a look at James Gallagher and Mary Jane Ascher’s four types of questions:
- Memory: pure “remember” questions
- Convergent: questions with one right answer, everyone gets to the same place
- Divergent: questions without a clear right answer, everyone goes in different directions
- Evaluative: questions that ask students to make a judgment
The “divergent” level is our focus. It’s perfect for going beyond mere memorization to true thinking. Here’s Gallagher and Ascher’s explanation:
[In divergent thinking,] the individual is free to generate independently [their] own data within a data-poor situation or to take a new direction or perspective on a given topic.
From Expressive Thought by Gifted Children in the Classroom by Gallagher and Ascher
Let’s break this down. “Data-poor situations” are times when we just don’t know enough to be sure. We have to make reasonable guesses, fill in gaps, and make predictions — despite uncertainty. There’s no one correct answer (although there are definitely incorrect answers).
This reflects adult life pretty well! We rarely have enough information to make the one right choice. Life is data-poor!
So when we ask a divergent question, we need enough uncertainty to force students to fill those gaps in as best they can. This naturally leads to different students making different choices and going in different directions (the definition of divergence).
Divergent Question Starters
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How do we create divergent questions? Here’s a sample from Gallagher and Ascher:
What if Spain had not been defeated when the Armada was destroyed in 1588, and Spain went on to conquer England. What would the world be like today?
This situation is “data-poor” since it didn’t actually happen! Students cannot look it up in their book. They can absolutely answer it, but it’s going to take some nice, juicy thinking.
Contrast this question with the more common “Why was the Spanish Armada defeated?” — a mere memory question (even though it might take a whole essay to answer fully).
Divergent questions are often based around hypotheticals:
- What if X happened instead, what would that lead to?
- Suppose Z were in charge, how would that change things?
- What would happen if we switched A and B?
- If this took place today, what would it be like?
- Imagine that C was not true anymore, how would that affect this?
I’ve written before about my favorite shortcut to divergence: what would X think about Y? – including a fabulous math example.
Think of how much more fun it is to read the responses to these divergent questions than memory questions!
There Are Wrong Answers
It’s worth highlighting that, while there are many possible right answers, not all answers are correct. When I asked my students, “How would The Little Prince have judged Brian from Hatchet‘s actions?” there were lots of ways to be right, but also clearly wrong answers. Divergent questions combine rigor and creativity.
Try to employ some divergent questions and let me know how it goes with your students!
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