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How should teachers ask questions of their students?
This blog was sparked by a ‘question’ I heard a teacher ask their students in a lesson. How can teachers frame questions with a more thoughtful choice of language?
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it” Morpheus – The Matrix Film – 1999
Asking Tougher Questions:
In The Question Matrix
, I shared how PPPB led to @JohnSayers
developing this idea into a 6-step process for questioning students. Or more explicitly, to ask students the ‘right’ questions using the better-framed choice of language. Using questions to:
.• to clarify and assess understanding
• to challenge assumption
• to evidence for argument
• to gather viewpoints and perspectives
• to predict implications and consequences
• to question the question.
Questions To Avoid:
In countless lessons I have taught and observed, the worst type of questions are framed poorly from the start. If this is the case, a poorly asked question leads to: students calling out; closed responses; incorrect answers; surface-learning and less deeper knowledge required.
- Let me ask you all, what is the … (asks for everyone to answer; perhaps call out …)
- Can anyone tell me … (gives the option to volunteer)
- What does this do … [holds object up] (most hands go up in the classroom)
- Any leading question which suggests its own answer …
It’s better not to ask questions in this way. Don’t waste your breath!
Asking Better Questions:
Deeper questioning – asked correctly from the outset – anticipates a deeper response from students. When lesson planning, is it useful to pre-plan your key questions for the class/students by keeping in mind lesson objectives and success criteria. Every teacher should ask themselves, do we want students to develop critical thinking skills or to deepen their subject knowledge?
If so, this will determine what type of question to ask and how to word it and ask it.
For example: ‘what manufacturing technique are we using here and how does it compare to [another] manufacturing technique?’ is a good example of a critical skills question, compared to this following example which develops knowledge; compared to similar techniques used in the cotton industry today, why should this industrial revolution [tie-dye] technique be avoided when manufacturing cotton?
Any type of closed question which demands a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should always be followed up with an additional question. Even a follow-up ‘why?’ demands more of a response or an opinion from the student as to why they opted for yes or no. This could further be developed by asking another student if they agree or disagree (and then why) with the first student’s response …
Specific and Direct:
During any discussion, a single question that is complex can often reap the wrong results.
Instead, try a sequence of questions to build depth and complexity once information is gathered and teased out from students. This can be done in class discussions with ease, but is much harder to achieve over a long period of time. For example, with written feedback as a student develops a written response and evidence improvement.
In class discussions, it is best to avoid more than one question at once.
If you ask more than one, some students may be unsure which question to ask first. This is where the ‘Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce
‘ technique is most effective. The difficulty with this technique, is teaching yourself as a teacher to pause effectively [including the students], and then having the ability to orchestrate students to respond in a controlled and calm ‘no-hands up’ environment, where all students are asked to respond [even if they answer is wrong].
The Question Matrix:
Asking more meaningful questions are best developed from top left to bottom right in the following image:
If teachers plan and compose specific questions more carefully, questions that will be asked of students, by doing so will help increase student participation and encourage meaningful learning.
Why not give it a go and report back in the comments section below?
Credit: Pam Fearnley (for PPPB idea via Pupils First Ltd.)