To question well is to teach well

To question well is to teach well


Questioning is a successful and universal pedagogical approach in teaching. Teachers, on an average, spend 80% of their school day asking questions. A typical teacher asks 300-400 questions a day. However, the quantity and quality of questions vary. Research has shown that a majority of questions asked by teachers are low-level cognitive questions that focus on  memorisation and recall of facts.

Questioning is important for two way communication between teachers and students. It is through questioning that the teacher can lead the class, interest them in the content of the curriculum and encourage participation.
Most importantly, good questioning fosters understanding; higher cognitive questions promote student-centred teaching.  Using thought provoking questions make young people more aware of their own learning; giving a feedback on a student’s understanding of subjects.

What questions?

There are basically two kinds of questions teachers use: broad questions and focused questions. Broad questions are used to initiate discussion. They require open-ended answers. Avoid broad questions if you are looking for specific answers.  Examples of broad questions are:

*What have these two incidents in common? (open-ended answer)

*How would you interpret this result? (evaluative answer)

*What do you think is going to happen next if I add more ink? (prediction)

*Do you think this is the best way to end the problem? (forming an opinion)

On the other hand, focused questions require more specific answers. Use them to find out the students’ knowledge of facts and concepts:

*What is the function of the cilia? (recalling facts)

*What is a verb? (defining terms)

*What characteristics do these things share? (categorising)

*Have you ever seen a similar structure? (confirming)

If the teacher wants to initiate a discussion, then avoid using focused questions first. Use broad questions and follow it up with focused questions.

Questions and answers often become one-way activities; questions from teachers and answers from students. Teachers need to look at the type of questions they are asking and the techniques they can use to improve.

Firstly, let us ask, “How should questions be used?”

Questions should be used to help teachers find the level at which their students understand concepts. They should be used to get students’ active participation in a lesson, to get them to express their thoughts and listen to the answers of their peers.

Secondly, let us ask, “How are questions asked?”

How a question is asked has a huge impact on learner outcomes. It is shaped by the way the teacher uses the question and the way students are encouraged to generate their own questions. How questions are asked and answered has greater importance than the content of the question. Successful questioners use various skills when asking questions:

*Phrasing and sequencing — when the teacher asks the question and the student understands the response expectation.

*Adapting — when the teacher adapts the question to the ability of the student.

*Sequencing — when the teacher asks questions in an order, having planned the pathway of the questions. Each question carefully planned to latch onto the next concept to be taught.

*Balance — when both convergent and divergent questions are used and time is spent with both types of questions.

*Participation — when, after the primary questions and initial answers, the students are encouraged to expand and support their answers, leading to the discussion of answers.

*Responding to questions —so that the time in class is used efficiently.

*Thinking time — teachers need to pause for up to about seven seconds after asking a question to allow students time to think.

*Student questions —students generate questions which lead to discussion. They listen to each other.

The techniques given here are more or less straightforward. However, teachers often forget to use them regularly. Thinking-time is perhaps the most forgotten technique of all. Thinking-time can often make a big difference to teacher-directed questions. Students digest the question and then respond.

Let teachers look at their questioning techniques and ask themselves the following questions:

*Do you challenge your students by asking questions?

*Do you arouse students’ curiosity by asking questions?

*Do you make your students want to know more?

*How often do you use questions as the foundation of new concepts?

*Do your questions encourage students to listen?

*To what extent do your questions require the students to interpret, analyse and think critically?

*Do your questions often discover aspects/ interests of the students that you were unaware of?

*Do you pre-plan your key questions?

*Do you have strategies for unlikely answers to key questions?

*Do your questions make students think beyond the simple?

*Do you ask a variety of questions?

*Do you distribute your questions evenly?

*Do students talk to each other, or only to you?

*Do you use thinking time?

*Do you accept answers in a neutral manner?

*Do you repeat students’ response?

*Do you encourage students to ask questions?

Some things that a teacher can do when asked a question is to repeat the question and paraphrase it. This makes sure that the entire group hears the question and it allows the questioner time to think about their own question. When we repeat the question, the student might rephrase the answer and in this way he/ she is ‘thinking out loud.’

Conclusions are often based on this process. Redirect the question — ask another student who might know the answer. This procedure encourages whole class participation and also implies that peers are a resource for learning.

Ask probing questions to draw students’ attention to things that may be implied in the answer. Enable students to answer their own questions. Promote discussion among students. Never forget that, “To question well is to teach well.”

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