Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Costa’s Levels of Questioning and Student-Designed Assessments

By on September 19, 2009

So this week I introduced Costa’s Levels of Questioning to my students. We have some teachers on my site talking about these triggers of metacognition so it compliments everyone’s efforts to enter this discussion in the classroom. Costa’s is, in a nutshell, a more staccato version of Bloom’s, making it more accessible to more students. Rather than talk using a vocabulary of 6 categories of learning, we muscle it down to three. No matter, it’s the discussion that counts.

I begin my lesson by asking them why people go to the gym. “To work out their muscles,” a student inevitably says.

“So,” I continue. “When a person works out their muscles, are they building them to lift something heavy right now?” They shake their heads. “Of course not,” I agree. “We workout our muscles now in order to be able to lift something heavy in the near or distant future. That’s how it is with education,” I say.muscle

“Not everything you learn today will apply to your lives later, I admit. But the importance is in working out your brain so that it can think and problem solve about life’s greater problems when you meet them. School is your brain’s gym. Your, ’24 hour Brain Fitness’ and studying Math works out certain neurons and Practicing Writing works out others.”

“But what happens if you only work out one arm and not the other?” I continue.

“You get kinda out of balance,” says a student.

“Correct,” I beam. “And that’s why we study different subjects and not just the ones we understand or enjoy already. That’s why we’re talking about multiple-intelligences. That’s why we’re talking about Costa’s Levels of Questioning.”

“I believe in ‘honoring confusion,’ as a guy named Sheridan Blau once said. And by showing intelligent confusion, we also prove just how much we comprehend. For that reason,” I continue, “we will be looking at the different ways to ask questions, and we’ll decide if they are working out our brains just a little bit or working out our brains in a way that makes them sweat.”

This is when I tell them about Costa’s Levels of Questioning.

Level I: Input
At this point I recite The Preamble (if it’s 8th grade) or “All the World’s a Stage” (if it’s 7th grade) thus integrating their history curriculum respectively. “Reciting takes a certain level of skill, don’t you think?” I ask, flexing my wrists like I’m working them out with a small handweight. They nod. “But has it proven that I understand what I’m saying? Would you agree that proving that I get what’s coming out of my mouth might work out my brain further?”

Questions that are level one include sentence stems that ask them to: Recite, Define, Describe, List, etc…

Level II: Process
I then recite my respective piece again, this time with inflection and passion, punching words verbally that are important and using my face and gestures to highlight the meaning of the words. “Now,” I say. “If I were to take apart these phrases and shuffle them around, say, in sentence strips on your desk, and you were to use the words and punctuation and meaning as context clues to put them back in order, wouldn’t you say that you were working out your brain more than you did before?” This time I flex my forearms miming bigger handweights. They start to nod more, some of them moving their arms too, some showing me their biceps, knowing what’s coming.

Questions that are level two include sentence stems that ask them to: Infer, Compare/Contrast, Sequence, Categorize, etc…

Level III: Output
“Now let’ say I were to ask you the following question…

‘Using textual evidence, could you predict what would have been the message of the Preamble if our forefathers hadn’t used the word perfect to describe our union? How would the ideal of our country have changed if they had used the word, acceptable?’


‘Do you agree with Shakespeare that people have 7 ages during their lifetime?’

…would you agree that now your brain is just starting to sweat just a little?” I push my arms up, straining in my mock workout. “I feel like I’m benchpressing 250 now, let me tell you!”

Questions that are level three include sentence stems that ask them to: Judge, Evaluate, Create, Hypothesize, Predict, etc…

To put their knowledge into action, I then show them the words and sentence stems to help them form their own questions for each of the levels. “Now, here’s your challenge: you guys are creating next Tuesday’s quiz for your fellow students on our latest reading selection. I want you to develop questions, high-level and deep-thinking questions that ‘Honor Confusion.’ Show me how much you understand about your story by asking great questions.”

I also agree with the student who invariably ends up shocked that it’s hard to develop a Level III multiple-choice question. “Which is why,” I continue the thought,” standardized tests are generally Level I questions.” They seem somehow cheered by this realization.

My 8th Graders are currently reading Laurence Yep’s “The Great Rat Hunt” while 7th grade is reading, what else, Gary Soto’s “7th Grade.” So each student then creates 10 questions that can be Multiple Choice, Short Answer, etc…using Costa’s Levels of Questions. I cull through them, pick the ones I like, and Viola! A student-created assessment.

I differentiate my assessment of their comprehension by looking at the quality of the questions they develop as well as their solution to the eventual Quiz’s questions. And in the end, I get the best out of them, which is the purpose of any assessment.

Expansion Note: Additionally, you can always have the students categorize the questions on their quiz into the three levels in order to further their metacognitive interaction.

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  1. B. Knaus
    December 16, 2009

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    Nice post. Are you an AVID teacher?

    I’ve found that with my AVID students, especially 7th grade for some reason, that they need much more work with the actual skill of questioning. We spend a ton of time on this. After about 3 months of school, they are getting it. Sixth grade picked it up really well. And 8th grade, who started last year, are running with it now.

    It’s so much fun to watch students once they understand questioning. The level of learning is so much higher.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. sue
    August 2, 2012

    Leave a Reply


    check the Costa’s Posters

  3. Lesley
    August 5, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Great,I know my students will be able to grasp this concept put your way. Well done!!

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