14 Nov 2020
By Mark Richards
Questioning is at the heart of all good teaching and learning. Asking questions is essential to check understanding and to maintain engagement. On average, a teacher asks between 300 and 400 questions every day. So, we do a lot of it! Of course, to have the desired effect, questions need to be effective and need to provide a suitable level of challenge.
What makes an effective question?
The most effective questioning opens and stimulates class discussion. It inspires higher order thinking and is a great way of boosting interaction. Questioning that elicits a consideration of the ‘how’ and ‘why’, as opposed to simply ‘what’ will move students forward the most.
Too often, students are overly concerned with just giving the ‘right answer.’ Questioning that encourages students to go beyond this mindset and to think more deeply will enable them to question their thinking, and to be more critical and evaluative of their own work.
The benefits are numerous. Effective questioning helps students think out loud and is empowering. It builds critical thinking skills and helps to improve speaking and listening skills. At the same time, it encourages respect for the opinions of others.
Along with all of this, of course, the teacher gets to gauge students’ understanding.
Types of questions: Closed Questions
Closed questions prompt a simple response. Often this can be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or a simple fact, such as: Who wrote Oliver Twist? When did the Second World War end?
Closed questions offer several advantages and many quick wins. They are easy to respond to and can be a good way of clarifying things and reducing any confusion. As a way of quickly checking understanding, challenging memory, or recalling basic facts, closed questions are unrivalled.
But closed questioning does have limitations. It limits the opportunity to expand on an answer, to give an opinion, or to explain reasoning. In fact, closed questioning kills all of that potential stone dead.
Types of questions: Open Questions
Open questions are more effective. They require a deeper level of thinking, give students the opportunity to reflect, offer opinions and to explain their thinking and ideas. Open questioning enriches learning. Crucially, it still enables the teacher to check students’ knowledge and understanding. However, with open questioning pupils are forced to do more than simply regurgitate knowledge. The teacher can assess the extent to which a student can apply their knowledge.
Tips & techniques for effective questioning
A simple way to improve the effect of questioning is to implement a no hands policy. If all students know they could be called up to answer, they will think through and prepare an answer. This also avoid the problem of ‘hogs and logs’ – those pupils that will ‘hog the limelight’ and always put their hand up; and those that will never put their hand up and are just content to let others answer.
Another approach is to introduce a wait time into the questioning process. This gives students time to think through their answers before they make their contribution.
Using a mix of questions is effective. Closed questions help to check facts and move the lesson forward. Open questions allow students to provide more detail and to give their reasoning.
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