Questions and questioning.
Last week when I was waffling about techniques for giving instructions, I realised that a follow on post could be to do with questions and questioning. Now before you start to look through the waffle for Bloom’s taxonomy and DeBoo’s enquiry mind, can I tell you that you won’t find them. Why? well I thought I would focus more on the practical application of questioning within the classroom and detail the techniques I used and continue to use when promoting learning and teaching.
- A secure environment– Children need to feel secure and happy in their environment. It is important that we create this environment when asking questions and promoting discussion. At the start of your time with a class it is important to establish some ground rules relating to discussions. Mine were simple and I still find myself quoting them today while working in higher education. 1) There is no such thing as a simple/silly question and 2) no-one ever laughs at someone else’s question or answer. This helps to produce a secure environment for the children since they become aware that they are not going to be laughed at for asking or answering a question. Coupled with this was the creation of an ‘asking question’ classroom. Supply teachers would sometimes remark that my class was ‘cheeky’ due to the openness that I created in my classroom. Children were encouraged to question me and each other, especially if they didn’t understand something or wanted more information.
- Thinking time-There are many theories surrounding the use of questions and the skill of questioning, however the one that I always remember is the one relating to waiting time. I’m not sure where this theory came from (don’t expect a citation or a reference list) but I do remember that the waiting time after presenting a question to a child should be approximately seven seconds, before we, as the practitioner, adds something else to the original request. It would appear that people usually wait about two or three seconds before prompting the child for a response. So my recommendation would be to wait…and wait…and finally…wait. Time seven seconds. It’s a long time and it can seem like a life time – so get used to waiting. After waiting I used to use the phrase…”Are you thinking or would you like some help?” I found that this allowed the child to gain more time if needed or say that s/he didn’t have an answer and needed support. There is nothing worse than being at the point of working out an answer when some interrupts your thought process.
- Warning and working time – As I mentioned in my previous waffle, if I wanted a specific child to answer a question then I would tell that child before asking the question. This allowed them to focus in on the answer/discussion that followed as well as asking for support if they needed it. This also allowed me to ask key questions for assessment. Although I did use this technique, I would also allow time to discuss answers before asking for responses. This of course links to the learning theories associated with collaboration, but also promotes the secure environment I mentioned earlier. Imagine if you were in a session and the lecturer asked a question and then pointed at you for the answer straight away. I certainly know how I feel when this happens in a meeting! The time to discuss the answer is more than just time to reach the correct answer. It is a time to clarify and explain answers and even adapt your response. As I used to circulate round the tables listening to responses I used to hear the children say -“I hadn’t thought of that!”. I continue this practice even to this day within my HE sessions – although sometimes students do looked quite surprised when I suddenly crouch down by the table and start listening in!
- Differentiated Questions – I was discussing assessment with a group of students in a conference chat the other evening, when questioning came up. One thing I introduced to them was my analogy of trying not to cap learning within the classroom. If you consider that the child’s learning is like a flowing river, we want to try and always keep this flowing – this means that the child is making progress. Too often we tend to drop a huge boulder in the way of the river so stopping or resisting the natural flow (or progression). Here we are capping the child’s learning. So how does this relate to questioning? Well, often we present questions that have the required level for the child but presents no challenge. In order to try and limit this I would use differentiated questions within the classroom. These would be presented to the whole class and then children would be encouraged to answer any question they wanted. Always ensure that these relate to different levels of questioning (yes – read Bloom’s taxonomy) and remember that the most difficult question is probably at the level of your highest group – so give a higher one again in order to challenge them as well 🙂
There might be a lot to remember and think about here and do not try to implement everything at the same time. If you consider a technique worth while, then work one or two into your practice every week and continue to use them until they become embedded in your practice. This also models effective questioning not only for the children but also for your adult support and, eventually, the training students who will be observing you.
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Have fun and catch you later!