Questioning techniques, a skill to enhance
by Elaine Gallagher PhD. Good questioning skills are part of the artistry of teaching. Well-crafted questions can assist students in digging deeper for more thoughtful […]
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, not a string of several at the same 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. Have students’ names on 3 x 5 “ cards, and use them to call on students at random, shuffling them periodically.
- 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?
DEVELOPING QUESTIONING SKILLS
Suggestions for developing better questioning skills:
- Talk less but ask more.
- Analyze your questions.
- Use more divergent questions.
- Reduce the number of questions that can be answered by only «yes» or «no.»
- Ask more questions to discover multi-talents.
- Do not stop the discussion with the right answer.
- Increase wait-time between asking and answering questions to at least five seconds.
- Lead more student-student «basketball» types of discussions.
- Provide good halting times.
- Avoid asking multiple questions.
- Develop sensitive listening techniques.
- Develop silent time.
- Ask questions appropriate to the developmental level.
- Provide direct instruction with interesting materials.
- Model good questioning skills.
- Create an atmosphere of trust and encourage questions.
- Include student questions later in the lesson, quiz, or assignments.
- Respond in an encouraging way.
- Help children improve their questioning skills.
LEVELS OF QUESTIONING: AN EXERCISE
Different levels of questions address different cognitive abilities, including knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
The following exercise applies these levels of questions to a well-known children’s story.
The Story: Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Goldilocks wanders into the house of the Three Bears. She tastes their porridge, finding one bowl «too hot,» one bowl «too cold,» and one bowl «just right.» Goldilocks also tries out their chairs, finding one chair «too big,» one «too small,» and one «just right.» Then she tries out the bears’ beds, finding one bed «too hard,» one «too soft,» and one «just right.» She falls asleep in Baby Bear’s «just right» bed. When the bears return, they find that someone has been eating their porridge, sitting in their chairs, and sleeping in their beds. They discover Goldilocks in the «just right» bed and she runs away.
Level 1: Know
- List the characters in the story.
- What were the bears eating?
- Where was Goldilocks when the bears found her?
Level 2: Comprehend
- Retell the events in the story in your own words.
- Why was Goldilocks afraid of the bears?
- Why was Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed?
Level 3: Apply
- Tell what might have happened if you had been Goldilocks.
- Relate the story from the point of view of Baby Bear.
- Use the information from the story to help you build a model of the bears’ house.
Level 4: Analyze
- Compare Goldilocks’ experience with that of Little Red Riding Hood’s.
- Identify parts of the story that could happen to you.
- Make a list of all the events in the story that indicate it is a fairy tale.
Level 5: Evaluate
- Judge whether or not Goldilocks made a good decision by running away from the bears. Explain.
- Pretend that Goldilocks was on trial for «breaking and entering.» Decide whether you would find her guilty. Justify your decision.
- Evaluate Goldilocks’ behavior as a guest in the bears’ house.
Level 6: Create or Synthesis
- Combine art and drama to create a new ending for the story.
- Suppose that Goldilocks had found the home of the Three Raccoons. What might have happened?
- What if Goldilocks had brought a friend to the home of the Three Bears. What might have happened?
- How would you change the ending of the story?
Benefits of increased use of “Wait Time” as you ask questions
One factor which can have powerful effects on student participation is the amount of time an instructor pauses between asking a question and doing something else (calling on a student or rewording the question).
Research on classroom questioning and information processing indicates that students need at least three to five seconds to comprehend a question, consider the available information, formulate an answer, and begin to respond. In contrast, the same research established that on the average a classroom teacher allows less than one second of wait-time.
After teachers were trained to allow three to five seconds of wait-time the following significant changes in their classrooms occurred:
- The number of students who failed to respond when called on decreased.
- The number of unsolicited but appropriate responses increased.
- The length of student responses increased.
- The number of student statements where evidence was used to make inferences increased.
- The number of responses from students identified by the teacher as less able increased.
- The number of student-to-student interactions increased.
- The number of student questions increased. (Rowe, 1974)
Allowing wait-time after a student response or question also produced significant changes in classroom interaction. The most notable change was that the instructor made fewer teaching errors characterized by responding illogically or inappropriately to a student’s comment.
Other benefits of 3 -5 second wait time include:
- 300-700% increase in the length of student responses.
- The number of unsolicited, but appropriate, student responses increases.
- Failures to respond decrease.
- Confidence increases – there are fewer inflected responses.
- Speculative responses increase.
- Teacher-centered show & tell decreases; student-student interaction increases.
- Teacher questions change in number and kind:
- The number of divergent questions increases
- Teachers ask higher level questions (Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- There is more probing for clarification.
- Students make inferences & support inferences with data.
- Students ask more questions.
- Contributions by “slow” students increase.
- Disciplinary moves decrease – more students are on task.
- Achievement on logic tests improves.
On the other hand, too much wait-time can also be detrimental to student interaction. When no one seems to be able to answer a question, more wait-time will not necessarily solve the problem. Experts say that waiting more than 20-30 seconds is perceived as “punishing” by the students. The amount of wait-time needed depends, in-part, upon the level of question the instructor asks, and student characteristics, such as familiarity with content and past experience with the thought process required.
Generally, lower-level questions require less wait-time, perhaps only three seconds. Higher-level questions may require five seconds or more. With particularly complex higher-level questions some instructors tell student to spend two or three minutes considering the question and noting some ideas.
NOTE: “Lower” or “higher” levels refer to the six levels Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Other instructors allow five to ten seconds of thinking time, and/or encouraging students to work in pairs to develop ideas, and then ask students what processes they are using to investigate the questions. This strategy makes students aware that thought process is at least as important as an answer and that alternative processes can be applied to arrive at an answer to the same question. (This is a metacognitive technique: students learning how we learn)
THREE TYPES OF QUESTIONS
Low-Level versus High-Level
2. Open versus Closed
- Convergent versus Divergent
Now, teachers, you are prepared to stimulate your students’ brains by asking questions more effectively.
- Academic Learning Services, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA.
- Judy Van Voorhis: Education Department, Muskingum College, Ohio.
- Margaret Farguhar: Grosset & Dunlap, New York