A Guide to Costas Levels of Questioning
Art Costa’s Levels of Questioning included three levels of questioning to encourage higher-order thinking and inquiry.
Like Bloom’s taxonomy, the questions in Costa’s lower levels encourage students to use their more fundamental cognitive processes. In comparison, those in higher levels encouraged them to utilize their more sophisticated cognitive processes. Dr. Costa has discovered the 16 Habits of Mind, a collection of practices that assist pupils in overcoming the difficulties that often arise in school and life in general, via decades of study on human resilience. Higher degrees of inquiry are necessary for and reinforced by many of Dr. Costa’s 16 habits, including thinking independently and creatively, obtaining information, and applying prior knowledge to new circumstances.
A sizable body of research backs up Dr. Costa’s schema. Following a constructivist theory of education, Newmann (1993) discovered that higher-order thinking forces students to “manipulate information and ideas in ways that modify their meaning” and “expects students to solve issues and build meaning for themselves.”
Costa’s Levels of Questioning are often explained using the analogy of a three-story house:
Level 1: Gathering
Most importantly, level 1 questions require students to use data “on the page.” Level 1 problems often include literal answers, meaning students may point to the solution on a page.
Power verbs from Costa’s levels are similar to those from Bloom’s Taxonomy, previously covered in one of our articles. Several of these might appear at the beginning of Level 1 questions:
Examples of level 1 questions by subject matter include the following:
- Science: Label the components of an animal cell.
- Math: Recite the formula for calculating a cylinder’s volume.
- Social studies: Match the monarch’s name to the appropriate nation
- English Language Arts: Find the point in the story when the climax happens.
As you can see, most of these Level 1 power verbs ask pupils to recollect details, which is a necessary ability in and of itself. However, most of the questions that instructors ask should fall in Levels 2 or 3, which require pupils to apply higher-order thinking abilities.
Level 2: Processing
In contrast to Level 1, questions at Level 2 challenge students to ‘read between the lines’ to assimilate information. Level 2 demands that students integrate that knowledge with what they already know to generate new connections, even if they may need to phrase their replies using literal facts.
Here are some Level 2 power verb examples:
According to the subject area, level 2 questions might appear in the following ways:
- Science: Contrast the mitotic and meiosis processes.
- Math: Sort the geometric forms into groups according to how many sides and angles they have.
- Social Studies: Arrange the following historical occurrences in decreasing order of relevance.
- English Language Arts: Examine how the author’s tone affects the text’s overall meaning. Do you notice how Level 2 questions are more in-depth than Level 1? Learners use the material to “do something” rather than repeat it. To determine how a component impacts the total, they classify it, draw distinctions, and compare and contrast it with other components. These types of abilities may pique interest and provide a pathway to the kinds of inquiries that inspire originality and advanced reasoning.
Level 3: Applying
Level 1 questions ask students to work with input, whereas Level 2 questions push them to digest their information to forge new connections. Students use their most advanced thinking abilities to produce an output in this situation. This could follow by doing assessments and analyses, testing different problem-solving ideas, or generating forecasts.
Below are a few Level 3 power verb illustrations:
According to the topic area, level 3 questions could resemble the following:
- Science: Predict how the frequency of hurricane activity will vary over the next ten years based on data from the southeast U.S. hurricane activity during the previous ten years.
- Math: Calculate the likelihood that a presidential contender will win the election if they get electoral votes from Florida, California, Virginia, New York, and Illinois.
- Social Studies: Create a social compact that considers the implications of globalization and technological development in the twenty-first century.
- English Language Arts: Argue for or against American mandated vaccination laws for employees.
Teachers must ensure that the bulk of students’ thinking and involvement is centered in Levels 2 and 3, whether preparing for discussion-based activities, project-based learning, or independent research. Assessments that ask students to remember basic details (such as a historical event’s date, an author’s name, or the answer to an equation) don’t effectively gauge how well students can use new knowledge or abilities in novel situations. A Level 2 or 3 inquiry would test students’ ability to draw connections between fundamental knowledge. For instance, a more open-ended question can ask students to determine the possibility of reoccurring based on the historical period in which a particular incident happened and a comparable geopolitical climate. Similarly, a teacher can ask students to provide an argument about how a renowned author might write about a specific contemporary situation rather than just reciting the names of famous writers.
James Baldwin explained the paradox of education in “A Talk to Teachers” by saying, “As one starts to become aware, one begins to analyze the culture in which [they] are educated.” Level 2 (and mostly level 3) questions elicit this response from students by getting them to tilt their heads, take a second look, point out inconsistencies, challenge the status quo, identify flaws in current organizations and devise innovative solutions. These inquiries motivate us to ponder new questions, examine our thought processes, and advance as persons and societies.