Low and high order questions refers to the teacher’s ability to ask questions at different levels of complexity.
The level of questioning used can range from simple requests of recalling information and stating facts (low order), through to more complex requests of evaluating and synthesising new ideas (high order).
It is the teacher’s job to ensure you ask questions at the right level to meet your intended purpose.
This will vary both between lessons and groups and also within lessons and groups as you attempt to use questions to support and challenge a range of different students across various topics and themes.
We will use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a model for explaining how questions can be asked at different levels.
Benjamin Bloom proposed three hierarchical models in 1956 in an attempt to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.
These three hierarchical models were associated with cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains.
For the purpose of this discussion we will be focusing on the cognitive domain.
In the original 1956 version the six levels were named as:
However, in 2001 a revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy was released which contained slightly different terms for each level, although meaning much the same in essence:
The best way to explain lower order questions is to refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
These questions would be asked in order to obtain responses from students which demonstrate their ability to perform at the lower end of the pyramid.
Lower order questions can therefore be used to assess and develop a student’s ability to demonstrate comprehension and knowledge.
What are the three types of rock?
What is the largest planet in the solar system?
What is the average life expectancy in the UK?
Referring to Bloom’s Taxonomy again, higher order thinking questions would be asked to obtain a response from students which demonstrate their ability to perform at the upper end of the pyramid.
Higher order questions can therefore be used to assess and develop a student’s ability to demonstrate analysis, evaluation and synthesis of ideas and information.
How does the cardiovascular system integrate with the other systems of the body?
Given the various opinions that have been expressed on global warming, how would you summarise your perspective on this topic?
If you were planning to sail around the world, what would you do to fully prepare for the journey?
Teachers can use both low and high order questions in combination in lessons depending on what they wish to achieved.
When checking learning, low order questions may be used in the first instance as a means of checking previously learned information and knowledge.
High order questions can then be used to build upon this prior knowledge to consider how the information could be developed or applied in a new context.
Teachers can switch between lower and higher order questions to check learning and promote new thinking.
Observational studies over the past few decades have repeatedly shown that teachers typically overuse low order questions in lessons.
Too many teachers ask simplistic questions which check prior knowledge and do not ask questions which sufficiently stretch and challenge students.
Teachers need to consider how they can ask higher order questions, in addition to lower order questions, to promote new thinking and challenge students to think more creatively to solve problems and apply learning in new ways.