Questions are like Earthworms in the Metacognitive Soil!



Learn to ask good questions and teach your children or students to create good questions.

Imagine: The soil that plants or trees need is like the ‘soil’ that all of us require for optimal growth and development as thinkers and learners.  We can refer to this soil as ‘metacognitive soil.’ Metacognitive Soil will enhance thinking about your own thinking and learning.

Real soil requires nutrients, water, the right PH balance, compost and earthworms!.  Metacognitive soil requires various things too (more about this in future).   One of the most important things that good quality metacognitive soil need is the skill to ask and create good questions. Like earthworms improve various properties of the soil through specific processes, creating questions will improve the quality of the metacognitive soil through specific processes. How do you think this will work?



 Anyone that is a scholar of or practitioner in the fields of mediated learning, critical thinking, cognitive education or just simply the development of thinking and learning, knows the importance of asking questions (and more specifically metacognitive questions) to promote thinking and learning .

I have specialized in metacognitive therapeutic intervention with older primary school learners, high school learners and adult learners for more than two decades. One of my key observations over the past two decades is however that:

Children often struggle to answer simple questions about themselves, do not ask reflective questions or find it hard to create questions about their work when they are learning. One of the simplest natural skills (in small children) becomes one of the most challenging skills later in life that eventually hampers thinking and learning.

I see this in my practice daily.  Here are a few simple random examples:

  • Why do you think we are having this appointment today?  I don’t know.
  • What is your academic goal?  I don’t know.
  • Have your thought about it this term? No.
  • What do you think stops you from achieving your goal? I don’t know.
  • Do you think you must learn this section of work for the test? Not sure. The teacher did not tell us yet.
  • Let’s practice asking questions while we read this sentence/paragraph.  If ‘this piece’ in the sentence is the answer, what do you think is the question?  What do you mean?
  • How can you turn this fact into a good question that your teacher could ask? Not sure.
  • Why are you losing marks in tests? I did not understand the questions. The teachers asked the questions in a different way.

This might sound farfetched, but I experience this all the time with learners of all ages and levels while mediating and coaching them to develop a metacognitive learning process and I talk to parents in my sessions about this all the time.

Educators can play a huge role to help learners to develop the skill to create questions about their work first of all but also reflective questions about the process of learning.  Educators (and parents or tutors) normally create the questions and not learners but more opportunities should be given so that learners can practice the skill to create questions. It is so easy nowadays to obtain old test and exam papers online and they are extremely valuable to do retrieval practice, but ‘more earthworms are needed in the metacognitive soil too.’

I discovered the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) a few years ago.  The QFT was created by the Right Question Institute that helps all people create, work with and use their own questions – building skills for lifelong learning, self-advocacy and democratic action.  The QFT is used by educators in more than 150 countries and supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  It is a very helpful technique to use and requires no extensive training in critical thinking or cognitive education.

But, it does not even have to be as structured as the QFT.  Just create opportunities for our children to develop the skill of asking and creating their own questions so that they can learn to think and learn better and reflect about their own thinking, learning and life.

REAL Thinking & Learning about ‘Asking & Creating Questions to enhance the Metacognitive Soil’ is an essential lifelong learning skill if you want to Be More Metacognitive.

Estelle Brettenny