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March 7, 2023

Using Different Levels of Questioning During Online Tutoring

In the realm of online tutoring, effective questioning plays a pivotal role in enhancing student understanding and engagement. This blog, "Using Different Levels of Questioning During Online Tutoring," delves into the significance of employing various questioning techniques, especially Costa's Levels of Questioning. By starting from fundamental levels and gradually progressing to higher-order thinking, students can navigate complex concepts more effectively.

This blog elucidates the three key levels of questioning, emphasizing their application and impact on student learning. Additionally, it highlights the importance of strategically choosing when to employ each level of questioning in different subjects, ensuring a holistic and engaging online tutoring experience.

Understanding the different levels of questioning

Costa's Levels of Questioning lays out three key levels of questions that help advance student understanding.

Level 1: Gathering

At this level, students are just starting to develop an understanding of the concept. They might be asked to define, describe, or memorize content at a basic level. 

Level 2: Processing

As students start to process the information, they may compare and contrast it to other material presented to them or start to separate different levels of information or concepts. 

Level 3: Applying

As students move to Level 3, they are able to apply the information or concept they have learned at higher levels. They may evaluate or analyze that content, create new content of their own, or imagine new solutions based on that content. 

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy, which moves students from remembering through understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, uses a similar structure to help advance student understanding. 

Level 1: Using questions to help the student gather information

Using the right questions can prove essential to helping students gather and assimilate information. At Level 1, tutors need to ask students questions that they can find directly in their content. These are the foundational concepts that students might need more help or support in understanding. Often, tutors will need to use Level 1 questions in order to assess where students are in the learning process. If they have just started working on a new concept or topic, they might need more support in those areas, and might need to spend more time on Level 1 questions. 

Level 1 questions might include prompts like:

  • Label the parts of this diagram: “What is included on this diagram? Let’s label it.”
  • Name the parts of a story: “Let’s break down this story, what was this part?”
  • Recite your multiplication tables: “What are the 9 times tables?”
  • Identify the main characters from this story: “Who are the main characters?”
  • Define the main idea of this passage: “What was the main idea?”

By asking students to take a fundamental-level look at the content, you can ensure that they are interacting with it and, in many cases, get a better feel for their overall understanding. 

Level 2: Using questions to help the student process information

At Level 2, students are taking a deeper look at the content and make new connections based on what they already know. Level 2 questions may not come directly off their page. They may, instead, require students to take the new information that they've just learned, then put it together with information from previous topics or sessions. 

Level 2 questions might include prompts like:

  • Analyze the difference between these two passages: “What is the difference between the two stories you read in class?”
  • Infer what the answer to this question might be: “What do you think the answer might be, if this were true?”
  • Sort the list into categories: “How can we take this list and put it into categories? What might those categories be?”
  • Distinguish between two categories:  “What are the similarities and differences in fiction and nonfiction?”
  • Organize the content based on level of impact or importance: “How would you organize this material into the most important to least important?”

As students take a closer look at the information and answer those vital Level 2 questions, they are being given the chance to actively interact with the content, which may lead to deeper-level understanding. 

Level 3: Using questions to help the student apply information

At Level 3, students have the chance to use and apply the new information they have learned. They may use that information to help them evaluate other content or to create their own. Often, Level 3 questions encourage students to apply new concepts or to think more critically about the information presented to them. 

Level 3 questions might include prompts like:

  • Create your own paragraph/story/essay based on the style presented. “What style of story did you read? Write a new paragraph in that same style.”
  • Predict the outcome of an experiment. “What do you think the outcome of this experiment would be?”
  • Analyze this passage, based on the concepts or information presented. “Reviewing this passage, what do you think about it? How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of?”
  • If X is true, then what does it tell you about Y?
  • Imagine what would happen if X occurred, then forecast what might happen if Y changed. “If the main character left the story, how might that affect the antagonist?”

These analytical questions can help take students deeper into the information presented and increase the odds that they will show higher-level mastery over those new concepts.

When to use certain questions

It's important to use a variety of questions from all levels of Costa's schema to challenge students to use higher-order thinking stills. However, it maybe challenging to determine when to move forward with a different type of questioning. 

  • In a language arts lesson, you might want to start with Level 1 questions that help students review the passage and ensure that they have read it. Then you can gradually move toward Level 3, where you might encourage students to more deeply analyze the passage and its meaning, or even have them create their own.
  • During a science lesson, you might encourage students to start at Level 1 by answering key questions about the content or defining key concepts. As you move to Level 3, you can encourage students to predict how an experiment would turn out or even to design their own experiments. 
  • A math tutoring session might start with a basic review of the facts or concepts needed to solve a certain problem. At Level 2, students might learn when to apply those specific rules or determine which model or formula to use. By Level 3, students might be inferring more difficult concepts using those models. 

Using Costa's Levels of Questioning can present a number of advantages for online tutors, including building bridges to higher-level thinking and developing students' ability to solve problems and develop meaning by themselves. 

Are you ready to take advantage of those tools, but need a platform to help you reach potential students? Apply to become a tutor through Pear Assessment (formerly, TutorMe) today.


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Amanda Gralto
Tutor Operations Specialist

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