Effective Questioning Techniques
By Elaine Gallagher Another way to reach students and to help with their learning process, is by excellent questioning techniques. Here are some suggestions. […]
Another way to reach students and to help with their learning process, is by excellent questioning techniques. Here are some suggestions.
Good questioning skills are part of the artistry of teaching. Well-crafted questions can assist students in digging deeper for more thoughtful responses. They can allow students to reflect on their own thought processes and to develop the ability to clearly articulate their thinking. Skillful questioning leads students to make their own discoveries, create their own learning. If you don’t do this already, spend some time anticipating the kinds of questions you want to raise during a discussion and the kinds of questions students are likely to raise. Think through how you want to respond to these questions and have several illustrative examples ready to explain and enhance more difficult material.
You might also think about ways in which to get your students talking to each other. We have spent years programming them to filter all their responses through the teacher. We stand at the head of the room like a target. We jump in to respond to each student with evaluative comments. Our voice dominates.
Try sitting with your students. Consciously refrain from responding to everything. Tell your students that you want them to handle the discussion and that you will act as a facilitator. They may need preparation to take this step and that can come in the form of questions that you give them to use as a guiding structure for their discussion. Later you can ask them to create the structure.
- Give students «thinking time» or «wait time» after asking a question. If there are no responses to your questions, don’t answer your own question. As another, simpler question or give an example.
- Move from simple questions to those that require thought. Avoid questions that need only a yes/no answer. Don’t insult students by asking questions that are too simple and don’t frustrate them by asking questions that are too difficult. I think frustrating questions are okay, but allow them to collaborate with a partner, or put them in small groups of three or four to wrestle with the question for a few minutes.
- Ask only one question at a time.
- Make sure that everyone can hear a student question. Repeat the question if necessary. (Better yet, ask another student to repeat the question. ) If you don’t understand the student’s question, ask for clarification, «Give me an example» or «Do you mean…»(Again, seek the clarification from another student.) Sometimes turn a student question back to the class. If no one can answer it, you know it’s something difficult for all. (Not necessarily. Turn the question over to pairs or small groups for a couple of minutes and then open it back up to responses. If you’re still getting blank stares, ask where the confusion is.)
- Don’t let a few students dominate a discussion. Get all students involved. As the «quick» student to wait or, at times, ask everyone to first write down the answer. Then choose someone to give a response. (Or go for pairs and small groups to maximize participation.)
- If you ask a question and immediately get a response, you can ask others what they think. «Do you agree, Jon?» is a good way to get students involved in the discussion.
- If you decide to call on a student, first ask the question, pause, and then call on the student. This keeps everybody’s attention since they know they may be called upon. Never go around the room in obvious order asking questions. Always keep students on their toes; don’t develop patterns that will clue them into whom you might call on next. (I’m not sure «keep students on their toes» doesn’t translate to high anxiety. I suggest varying your questioning strategies. Sometimes it’s nice to have some time to think and formulate your answer. If you feel there is value in asking for a spontaneous response, set it up that way.
- Don’t ask, «Do you understand?» or «Do you have any questions from last week’s lecture?» Ask questions which require students to give answers which demonstrate that they understand. So if you finish working through a problem on the board, you might ask something like – «What three things do you need to consider before starting the problem…»
- If a student asks a question that was covered previously and he/she should know, don’t embarrass the student by saying, «You should know that,» or «We covered that last week.» Instead, consider asking another student to answer the question.
- Move around the room in a way that promotes discussion. When a student asks a question, it is natural for an instructor to move toward that student. This tends to exclude other students and focuses the interaction between teacher and student. Moving away from the student who is speaking draws others into the discussion.
- One of the most helpful things you can do if you want to improve your questioning skills is to have yourself videotaped during a discussion. When you watch the tape, pay particular attention to the kinds of questions you are asking. What levels of thinking are those questions requiring of your students? How much time do you give students to answer questions? How many times do you answer your own questions? How much of the «discussion» is really you talking? How often do you help a student examine his/her own thinking? What percentage of the time are students talking to each other? How often does a student challenge or ask for clarification on another student’s response
Using these techniques regularly will help improve students’ active participation and increase their critical thinking skills. It will also help your class to be more interesting.