Question-Driven Feedback: How to Ensure Teacher Metacognition


Authors: Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy

As educators, we know the impact meaningful conversations have on student learning. The same is true for adult learners.

We know that the more opportunities learners have to share ideas, clarify their thinking with others, make mistakes as they are talking, and force themselves to solidify their understanding, the greater probability they have to learn the content or skills at a deeper level.

This is metacognition, and it requires learners to examine, externalize, and apply their thinking, such as:

  • What it means to learn something,
  • Awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses with specific skills or in a given learning context,
  • Planning what’s required to accomplish a specific learning goal or activity,
  • Identifying and correcting errors, and
  • Preparing ahead for learning processes (Chick, 2013).

Metacognition is related to the concept of student ownership – mindset that leads to elevated academic achievement and that teachers can develop in themselves and in their students. It is the critical thinking skills that empower students to think about, question, and communicate new learning in lasting ways (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011).

The same is true for adult learners. A principal who is utilizing instructional leadership knows that all learning is supported by a question-driven approach for monitoring and offering feedback.


The Value of Supporting Teacher Metacognition

Book cover of Developing Instructional Leadership by Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy – multicolored squares on a solid blue background with the book’s title and author names. In our book, Developing Instructional Leadership, we define the actions of instructional leadership in terms of the implementation of an initiative that increases student achievement.
We share:

  • The importance of having a thoughtful, detailed plan specific to the curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate of the initiative.
  • The importance of communicating every aspect of this plan over and over to ensure clarity from all stakeholders.
  • The importance of knowing your teachers—their motivation and capacity—and how you will need to differentiate how you delegate the work.
  • Instructional leadership is about supporting teachers to own their role in the initiative.

But this can only happen if teachers are supported to make stronger decisions. They are being asked to make changes in how they teach. They are being asked to explain how they make changes and the decision-making process behind the change.

Teachers need to be clear on the changes they are making and the decisions behind those changes. This can only happen if they are supported to build metacognition around their decisions: how they are making them, why they are making them, and the impact these changes are having on student learning.

To that end, a principal utilizing the power of instructional leadership understands that the most effective method to support stronger teacher decision-making is through a question-driven process.

“Telling or asking closed questions saves people from having to think. Asking open questions causes them to think for themselves” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 39).

The question-driven method of discourse allows the teacher to own the feedback process by explaining, clarifying, and reflecting on the decisions they are making to implement the actions of the initiative.

In other words, it is incumbent on the principal to help teachers become more effective and efficient decision-makers regarding classroom practice by asking teachers how they make decisions and supporting their metacognition through the articulation of their thinking.


The Process for Question-Driven Feedback

Principal shares her classroom observation notes from a clipboard and the teacher appears engaged and verbally answers questions during a question-driven feedback process.The value of the question-driven feedback process is in the conversation. As a principal, the goal is clear—to create awareness and responsibility in teachers regarding the implementation of the initiative. What is said and done must reflect that goal.

Thus, just demanding that teachers do something is useless. Instead, principals must ask effective questions that drive a thoughtful conversation that allows the teachers to articulate, clarify, question, and solidify the decisions they are making.

Because the most impactful initiatives are those that focus on increasing student achievement, the most effective way to monitor implementation is to observe teachers’ impact on student learning.

The conversation begins with what was observed in the classroom. Questions should begin with broad brushstrokes and then increasingly focus on the details, always eliciting from the teacher the decisions made and the reasoning behind each decision. This questioning for more detail maintains the focus of the conversation.

Below are sample questions that can be used to guide these conversations. We begin with a series of questions to help the principal understand the impact of instruction on student learning at the lesson level.

We then offer a series of questions specific to the implementation of individual initiatives. These questions are only a jumping-off point. As John Whitmore (2017) explains,

Questions are most commonly asked in order to elicit information. I may require information to resolve an issue for myself, or if I am proffering advice or a solution to someone else. If I am a [principal], however, the answers are of secondary importance. The information is not for me to make use of and may not have to be complete. I only need to know that the [teacher] has the necessary information. The answers given by the [teacher] frequently indicate to the [principal] the line to follow with subsequent questions, while at the same time enabling him to monitor whether the [teacher] is following a productive track, or one that is in line with the [initiative being implemented] (p. 41).

Therefore, give yourself the freedom to take the conversation in any direction that allows you to better understand the teacher’s thinking.

Remember, the aim of every conversation is for the teacher to articulate their decision-making process.


We know the impact of meaningful conversations on student learning. The same is true for adult learners. Principals with strong instructional leadership use question-driven feedback to foster teacher reflection & ownership. Click To Tweet


Questions to Drive Feedback at the Lesson Level

We begin our conversation at the lesson level. It is important to first understand what decisions the teacher made regarding the lesson observed.

We know from Madeline Hunter (1982) that teaching is a constant stream of decisions made before, during, and after interactions with students. Each lesson must be driven by the learner, the learning outcome of the lesson, and how the learner is supported to own their learning.

There are five student-centered phases of an effective lesson:

  1. Setting the Learning Context: Why is the learning important?
  2. Stating the Learning Outcome: What will the students learn?
  3. Engaging in the Learning Process: How will the students learn it?
  4. Producing the Learning Demonstration: How will the students demonstrate that they learned it?
  5. Implementing the Learning Application: How will the students continue to use what they have learned?


Puzzle pieces listing the five phases above fit together to form the concept of increased ownership and elevated achievement.

Here are questions you may selectively utilize to begin to understand the decisions a teacher made at the lesson level.

Questions to Drive Feedback: Lesson Level. The purpose of these questions is to support the teacher to reflect on their own decision-making at the lesson level. This thinking can be elicited by asking, “How did you decide that?” after each question. Begin by asking broader questions: What were the students learning? What did the students do to show that they had learned it? Was the lesson successful for you? Were you pleased with the results? Then, reflect on the phases of the lesson by asking more detailed questions to get a complete understanding of the teacher’s thinking. (The detailed questions are separated into five boxes for the five phases of student learning. Each box has 4-5 questions.) Box 1: Learning Context (Why is the learning important?) Questions: Why were they learning this skill? How does today’s learning connect to yesterday’s and tomorrow’s? How did you share this information with your students? How did you decide the answers to these questions? Box 2: Learning Outcome (What did the students learn?) Questions: What skill were the students learning? What did the students do to show that they learned this skill? How did the students know the learning outcome of the lesson? How did you share this information with your students? How did you decide the answers to these questions? Box 3: Learning Process (How did the students learn it?) Questions: What strategy did you select to teach the skill? How did you share this information with your students? Was the strategy effective? What is your evidence? Were you pleased with the instructional decisions you made? How did you decide the answers to these questions? Box 4: Learning Demonstration (How did the students show that they have learned it?) Questions:

Teachers play a crucial role in ensuring that students receive the positive effects of a well-implemented, student-focused initiative.

The teacher is the key decision-maker for establishing effective learning design before, during, and after instruction.

Because the teacher is the person who knows the most about the students, it is crucial that the teacher’s ownership in making these decisions is cultivated by the principal.





Chick, N. (2013). Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Hunter, M.C. (1982). Mastery teaching. TIP Publications.

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for performance fifth edition: The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. Nicholas Brealey.

Zwiers, J., & Crawford, M. (2011). Academic conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Stenhouse Publishers.


About the Authors

Robert Crowe
Robert Crowe is one of the co-founders of Elevated Achievement Group, a professional development company dedicated to helping educators develop student ownership at all grade levels and at all types of schools. He has worked extensively across the United States supporting district administrators, school administrators, teachers, students, and parents at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to implement standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. He is the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Jane Kennedy.

Jane Kennedy
Jane began her career over 25 years ago as a self-contained classroom teacher in an inner-city, urban setting with the majority of her students receiving Title I support and free-and-reduced lunch. She has since consulted with all types of districts – urban, suburban, and rural – as they implemented the latest curriculum, managing a team that worked directly with administrators and teachers, and developing processes that successfully supported the implementation of research-based reforms. Jane is now Chief Financial Officer of Elevated Achievement Group. She is also the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Robert Crowe.


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