Questioning is one of the foundations of learning. A good question can be the most powerful tool a teacher has for extending and deepening knowledge. If a child is asked a great question, new viewpoints, ideas and understanding can be developed. A good question can enthuse, stir, and provoke children which can eventually lead to a newly gained skill, deeper understanding or a new viewpoint.
Good questions can:
Having good questioning skills doesn't happen over night; below are some ways in which you can develop your questioning skills in your day to day practice.
Use The Question Matrix!
The first step is to understand the types of questions we can ask. the question matrix is a fantastic tool which shows how different levels of questions ask for different types of information. In order to use this well, you have to ask yourself what the purpose is of the question you are posing. If you want a child to be open minded and develop their own ideas you need to look at an imagination style question. Developing your own bank of questions will give you a useful range of thought provokers that you can use during your lessons. Perhaps you can even stick the matrix around your room so both you and the children have a useful questioning resource.
Become More Self Aware!
Many studies have found that as many as ninety percent of teachers’ questions focus on low-level 'present' and 'past' style question from the matrix above. We may be unaware of our over-reliance on low level questioning. It may be worth recording the type of questions you are asking in class. This could be done by you through a video or voice recording or by a colleague. Use the question matrix to categorise the types of questions you ask, in order to see where you generally lie within the matrix. It is worth noting, that a great teacher’s questions will be scattered all over the matrix, not just in the high level area.
Ask in different ways!
Great questioning is not always about what question you have asked but sometimes how you asked the question. Phrasing, tone, word choice and other factors can all play a part in helping children develop their understanding.
Direct/indirect - Asking questions directly to children can allow them to share their understanding but can also be quite pressurising. Asking the question to the classroom and then pinpointing that child for their thoughts, can give a little breathing space in which a child can flourish.
Word Choice - Some questions can sound more demanding than others, which again can panic some children. 'Paul, can you give me your thoughts?' is not quite as pleasant as 'Paul, would you be willing to share your ideas with us?' Additionally, by adding in that you as a teacher are struggling, you can relax a child who may have a fear of failure. E.g. 'Paul, I know I, myself, found this challenge difficult, but could you share how you tackled this question?'
Emotion and Tone - Factors such as voice level, facial expressions, bodily posture, and eye contact can greatly affect the child's interpretation of a question. A simple question like “What do you think?” can be taken in different ways depending on the questioner’s emphasis and demeanour. A loud question delivered with sweeping gestures can excite and motivate children, but, if softly spoken, a question can calm the room and invite self-reflection.
Recieve Your Answers Differently!
On top of this, great questioning it is not always about the questions themselves but how you receive the answers. Sharing answers in different ways gives all children a chance to give their response in their own style.
Think time - Think time is the amount of time a teacher waits for a response to a question. While the interval may feel like an eternity to the teacher, studies have shown that the average teacher’s wait-time is-remarkably-less than one second. Instead, get in the habit of pausing at least five seconds (and sometimes more) after a question. According to research conducted by Columbia University, when teachers waited at least five seconds after asking a question, pupils lengthened their responses, backed up their claims with evidence, and became less teacher-directed and more peer-directed.
Post-it Note Response - This method allows all children to share their understanding by writing what they believe the answer is and sticking it up for viewing. This is a good strategy for a quick assessment of all children's understanding. However, this method takes time and can slow the pace of a lesson.
Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce - This is a great routine for teachers to develop. Too often, teachers ask a question, receive an answer and move on, leaving a missed opportunity for a discussion. Instead, try posing the question, pausing for thinking time and ask one child for an answer. The next step is then key. Rather than accepting the answer and stating if they are right are wrong, bounce the answer around the classroom by asking other children if they agree, disagree or have anything to add. You can repeat this bounce a number of times, before concluding with the correct answer.
With a keen interest in the neuroscience and psychology of learning, WAGOLL Teaching is about sharing research alongside great, simple teaching ideas to a global teaching community.
Ben has been in education for over 10 years and is passionate about simplifying high quality teaching and learning through innovative and practical approaches in the classroom.