Question-Answer-Relationships and
Co-Teaching Across the Curriculum

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

May/June 2014

In response to the demands of high-stakes testing, many elementary schools have adopted the secondary school practice of departmentalization.  The theory behind departmentalization is that it allows teachers to specialize in a content area and design lessons that provide a level of depth that will help students develop critical thinking skills across content areas. 

Despite the potential benefits of departmentalization, it represents several challenges, especially for students with disabilities. One such challenge, at both the elementary and the secondary level, is that effective reading strategies may only be utilized in the reading or English classroom (Chang, Munoz, & Koshewa, 2008). Reading strategies should be utilized across content areas, but teachers of other subjects often overlook these strategies in favor of a focus on specific content. Students with disabilities, who are included in general education settings, are further challenged by departmentalization when they have to accommodate varying teaching styles and strategy instruction throughout the day (Fenty, McDuffie-Landrum, & Fisher, 2012; Whalon & Hart, 2011). Consistent use of reading strategies across the curriculum is a powerful option for supporting students with and without disabilities. 

Today’s college and career-ready expectations for all students make it more critical than ever to ensure that effective reading strategies are employed consistently in every single classroom regardless of content area or grade level. Students with and without disabilities need to develop literacy strategies that can be used across the curriculum with various texts, resources, and instructors (Fenty et al., 2012; Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011).

The Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) strategy is an effective reading strategy that can be implemented across grade levels in all content areas. Specifically, the QAR strategy gives students a structure for comprehending text by helping them determine what is important in the text that they have read and how to put that together with their own background knowledge in order to answer questions (Raphael & Au, 2005).  The updated versions of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) English Reading assessments require that all students be able to demonstrate inferential comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction texts (Virginia Department of Education VDOE, 2013).  As a result, students are expected to analyze paired passages and determine how best to combine their own knowledge with information in the text (VDOE, 2013).  Students can effectively apply the QAR strategy on the Virginia English Reading SOL assessments; in addition, they can use it to attack word problems on the Math SOL assessments and to interpret questions and strategically select answers on History and Science SOL assessments. 

Using the QAR Strategy

The QAR strategy provides a potential framework for school-wide reform that can address achievement gap challenges across subgroups of students (Fenty et al., 2012; Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011). General and special education teachers should provide direct instruction and ongoing support with the QAR strategy in all content areas.  Special education teachers can play a vital role in a school-wide strategy plan by teaching students with disabilities to utilize the strategy during direct student service and during whole-class instruction in inclusive settings (National Association of Special Education Teachers, n.d.; Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011). Further, special education teachers should collaborate with speech-language specialists and reading specialists to provide professional development and consultation to general education content-area teachers so that they can provide consistent reinforcement of the QAR strategy as part of their daily lessons (Whalon & Hart, 2011).  In addition to benefiting all students, consistent use of the QAR strategy is critical for students with disabilities who travel between teachers and settings during the school day (Fenty et al., 2012; Whalon & Hart, 2011).

As described in Raphael’s (1982) original work on Question Answer Relationships, the two main types of QARs are “In the Book” and “In My Head.”  Teachers can start QAR instruction by helping students identify when they need to consider only the text and when they need to access their own background knowledge to answer questions.  Once students have a clear understanding of when questions are text dependent as opposed to when they require readers to access their own thinking, students can start to consider more specific types of QARs within the two main categories (Fenty et al., 2012). 

Raphael’s later work (Raphael & Au, 2005) provides a more specific process for categorizing questions. For example, “In the Book” questions can be broken down into “Right There” and “Think and Search” questions.  The former can be highlighted or underlined in the text whereas the latter require readers to combine several pieces of information in the text to form a complete answer.  Similarly, “In My Head” questions can be broken down into “The Author and Me” questions, which require readers to put their prior knowledge together with information in the text to draw an inference, and “On My Own” questions, which can be answered without even reading the text.

View a brief video from the Virginia Department of Education
demonstrating the QAR strategy. (Click the image to access the video.)

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The QAR framework helps students interact with fiction and nonfiction text at all levels and across content in order to demonstrate deep comprehension (Raphael & Au, 2005).  Students can start to identify common question stems (see Table 1) for the four main types of QARs.  Once students become proficient at identifying questions as “Right There,” “Think and Search,” “Author and Me,” and “On My Own,” they can apply specific strategies for using the text and their own background knowledge to provide answers to questions (Raphael, 1982, p. 187). Question-answer-relationships are taught and applied in every classroom and content area as a method for building metacognitive skills that support comprehension.  Comprehension is at the core of every single subject area and should be built into every teacher’s instructional plan.

Table 1

Question Stems for Writing QAR Questions/Problems

Right There Think and Search Author and Me On My Own

Name ...
List ...
Identify ...
Who is/are ...
Where is ...
What is ...
When is ...
How many ...
When did ...
Who did ...
Where did ...
What did ...

Give examples of ...
Retell ...
What made ...
Why did ...
The reason for ...
Tell ways these are alike ...
Tell how these are different ...
What is the reason for ...
Summarize ...
Explain ...

Show how ...
Make ...
State what is next ...
Imagine what if ...
The solution might be ...
Judge ...
Consider ...
Originate ...

What is another word for ...
What would you do if ...

          (VDOE, 2008, p. 30).

The QAR strategy can provide a common language across the curriculum for teachers and all subgroups of students focused on meaningful text comprehension (Fenty et al., 2012; Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011).  Once this common language is established and reinforced across the curriculum, students with and without disabilities will be able to flexibly apply the strategy to access content knowledge and demonstrate the higher level thinking skills demanded by today’s college and career ready standards (Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011).  Examples of QAR resources across content areas may be found in Table 2.

Table 2 

Question-Answer-Relationship Resources by Content Area

Content Area QAR Resources
English

Text-Dependent Questions Using Paired Passages

Mathematics

QARs + Tables = Successful Comprehension of Math Word Problems

History

Reading Quest:  Making Sense in Social Studies

Science

Simple Science Strategies: Because Everyone Can Think Like a Scientist


Students from traditionally low-performing subgroups (e.g., students with disabilities, English language learners, and minority students) should be included in this comprehension strategy instruction (Raphael & Au, 2005; Whalon & Hart, 2011).   As Raphael and Au (2005) assert, it is “... an erroneous conclusion that instruction in lower-level skills is a better match to the abilities of students of diverse backgrounds” (p. 207). Effective scaffolding can be used to ensure generalization of the QAR strategy for students facing a variety of challenges (Whalon & Hart, 2011).  It is critical to invest instructional time in direct comprehension strategy development for all students.

References

 Chang, F. C., Munoz, M. A., Koshewa, S. (2008). Evaluating the impact of departmentalization on elementary school students. Planning and Changing. 39(3/4), 131-145.

Fenty, N. S., McDuffie-Landrum, K., & Fisher, G. (2012). Using collaboration, co-teaching, and question answer relationships to enhance content area literacy. Teaching Exceptional Children44(6), 28-37.

National Association of Special Education Teachers. (n.d.). School-wide strategies for managing reading. Retrieved from https://www.naset.org/2543.0.html

Raphael, T. (1982). Question-answering strategies for children. The Reading Teacher, 36(2), 186-191. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20198181

Raphael, T. E., & Au, K. H. (2005). QAR:  Enhancing comprehension and test taking across grades and content areas. The Reading Teacher, 59(3), 206-221. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20204340

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). (2008). Middle school reading modules in support of project graduation. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/graduation/project_graduation/online_tutorials/english/materials/reading_middleschool.pdf

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). (2013). Frequently asked questions about Virginia’s 2010 English standards of learning. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/english/2010/faq_2010_english_sol.pdf

Whalon, K., & Hart, J. E. (2011). Adapting an evidence-based reading comprehension strategy for learners with autism spectrum disorder. Intervention in School and Clinic, 46, 195. doi: 10.1177/1053451210389036