Since early childhood, our students have been trained to believe that answers are just a click away.  Yet, as many of us know, Jewish tradition often values questions as much as it does answers.  For example, among the first rituals a Jewish child learns is that of reciting the Four Questions at the Passover seder; and in fact the entire seder is organized in a way that is designed to elicit questions upon questions.  Similarly, when we study Rashi’s commentary on Torah, we begin by trying to figure out: “What, exactly, was Rashi’s question?”  And of course, Jews are known to answer a question with a question!

Kitah Gimel/Dalet (the 3rd/4th grade class) is learning about the usefulness of asking questions as we engage the texts from the Nevi’im—the prophets.  It is important to me, as we explore these sources, not only that my students learn familiar stories about biblical characters like Joshua, Deborah, and King Solomon, but that they develop the skills necessary to engage in rich and meaningful textual study—study that is driven by thoughtful questions.

Thanks to a session at the NewCAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) conference I attended this past summer, I found a way to meet both of these goals.  I attended a session titled “Lenses of Questioning: Helping Students Think Critically,” led by Batsheva Frankel.  Frankel explained that she created the Lenses of Questioning method “to help students formulate strong and varied questions leading to more meaningful explorations of texts and topics.”  “Engaging in the Lenses approach,” she explained, “creates a strong buy-in for students, and more focused learning.”  The six kinds of questions she identified help to stretch students’ analytic skills and lead to deeper thinking.

In adapting Batsheva’s method to our classroom, we use the following categories to analyze stories from the Nevi’im:

ORANGE questions ask for information, data, or facts.
RED questions focus on feelings and emotions.
YELLOW questions focus on best-case scenarios, hopes, and benefits.
PURPLE questions focus on risks, problems, and weaknesses.
BLUE questions ask about the big picture—a summary, theme, or goal.
GREEN questions ask for creativity—these are the what-ifs and questions that seek alternative solutions.

Since being introduced to the method—and after making “glasses” with different colored lenses—students have had a variety of opportunities to ask questions based on the stories we’ve read.  Sometimes, they work alone, sometimes in small groups.  Sometimes, they write six questions—one question for each color.  Sometimes they write many questions for a single color.  Sometimes they roll a die with colors instead of dots, and they write a question that corresponds with the color of the roll!  Each color, each category of question, invites students to think about the text in a different way.  One of my students remarked: “Orange is my least favorite to do because it’s the easiest and there’s only one answer!”  Others agreed that the green ones are the most interesting!  Even young children know that comprehension is only the first layer to understanding.

So, what are some of the questions the children have asked?

What did Deborah tell Barak about helping him?
How did Rahav feel when the wall of Jericho fell?
What did Joshua hope would happen when they blew the shofarot?
What risks did Yael take in order to help the Israelites?
What was the point of the story of God calling to Samuel?
What would have happened if the guards found the spies Joshua sent into Jericho?

The students have the opportunity to answer the questions posed by their classmates; yet they are learning that it is the question that is key. Students are learning what it means to ask questions of the text. They are becoming critical thinkers through the use of this method.  As Batsheva Frankel said, “The more we as teachers understand and model using different categories of inquiry, the better we all can train our and our students’ minds to explore every facet of a topic or idea. This leads to deeper critical thinking skills and imaginative observations, which are crucial to our students as they explore Jewish texts, rituals, philosophical and theological ideas in an increasingly mature fashion, as they discover and solidify their Jewish identity.”  These are certainly worthwhile goals for our students at HDS, and it is a great pleasure to work alongside the children as they endeavor to achieve them.