Pedagogy of the book and chapter questions

teachDoes the organization of the textbook relate to pedagogical approaches used to teach with it? I considered this question in relation to chapter organization in a previous post. In this post I will explore another part of the typical textbook chapter: questions.

Flip to the end of a textbook chapter, and you will usually find a list of questions, exercises, or other suggested assignments. Sometimes you will find additional learning activity ideas and resources on the companion website. Do they serve a purpose, or do readers flip past to get to the next assigned reading?

As authors, we are not responsible for curriculum or course design, and we are not in charge of instruction. We don’t know how the text will be used within the course. We simply put our work out there and hope it is helpful. As textbook authors, how can we devise prompts that genuinely add to the value of the chapter and the book as a whole? The way we answer will vary greatly depending on the subject matter of the text, as well as the academic level of the courses that might use the text.

What do we hope readers will do, based on the questions we suggest?

One place to start is by thinking about the steps we hope readers will be able to take. In the previous post about books and pedagogy, I adapted a knowledge framework from the updated version of the classic Bloom’s Taxonomy. This framework points to four types of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive (Anderson, Bloom, Krathwohl, & Airasian, 2000). Thinking about the type(s) of knowledge contained in the chapter can help us craft relevant questions.

Knowledge types

Do we hope readers will understand key facts or principles presented in the chapter? Do we hope they will compare and contrast concepts from this chapter with those presented in earlier book chapters or other content (such as supplementary articles or media posted on the companion website)? Or do we hope they will be able to use those points in some way?

Crafting Useful Questions

Three main types of questions can potentially lead to different ways readers can learn from the chapter.

  • Review Questions: What did the chapter say about X?
    Review questions help the reader check their understanding of the chapter. Review questions can be beneficial to students, whether or not they are made part of an assignment. They fit best with factual or procedural questions. Students can use them to prepare for a quiz, or at the end of the term when they study for a final exam.
  • Reflective Questions: What does X mean to me?
    When we hope readers will think more deeply about the main ideas of the chapter, reflective questions are appropriate. They can help readers internalize and make sense of new ideas. They work best with conceptual or metacognitive questions. Reflective questions can be used as writing prompts for assignments or journal exercises.
  • Discussion Questions: How does my understanding of X relate to others’ perceptions?
    While individuals can study with review and reflective questions, discussion questions are intended as stimulus for group conversation. Discussion questions can aim to elicit different perspectives on the chapter, or to encourage group exchanges that lead to new insights or discoveries.

Don’t let poor chapter questions land you a poor review!

One reason I decided to write this post is that as a reviewer, I find that questions authors develop are inadequate. Inevitably, this is an area where I suggest revisions. Here are some of the problems I frequently see:

  • Review questions that point to content not actually contained in the chapter.
  • Discussion questions that aren’t worded in a way that encourages interactions.
  • Reflective questions that are muddy, lacking open-ended encouragement for a deeper dive.
  • Questions that don’t encourage readers to think critically about the ideas.
  • Sometimes a chapter aimed at post-graduate students will offer questions that are too basic while a 101-level textbook chapter offers questions that assume prior knowledge or experience an undergraduate shouldn’t be expected to have.
  • Questions that don’t encourage readers to think about or apply concepts or strategies to professional life or academic studies.

What will work best for your textbook? Share your examples! Let’s create textbooks that help individual readers or students in a class learn.

Anderson, L., Bloom, B. S., Krathwohl, D., & Airasian, P. (2000). Taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives(2nd ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.

Janet SalmonsJanet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.