Questioning for questions sake?

Questioning is one of the most common and successful elements of assessment for learning and assessment of learning in the classroom, but how often is it planned? How often is it effective? Are there missed opportunities? How can we managed this extremely effective tool so that it doesn’t take over the lesson? 

I stopped my trail of thought in the corridor earlier last week, when I realised I was doing my usual walking past students/staff saying ‘good morning, how are you?’ and walking past them before having a response, or even considering the response that may come back. I couldn’t tell you what any of the people I spoke to that morning said. Is this the same in some classrooms, where you just ask a question to a student and you already know that they know the answer? 

This took me back to a mentoring session in my final placement as a trainee, where I was guided to hone my questioning. I’ve built on, reflected on and developed my thoughts on this session since then, but it still follows a series of questions to ask yourself before using questioning in your classroom to make it as effective as possible. 

When we think about questioning in the classroom, there are many different elements to consider, and what they may  mean: 

  • Do students have hands up? 
  • Does this mean that the question isn’t actually targeted and we’re just hoping that the usual three or four students have been listening to our ramblings over the last 5 minutes? 
  • Do students have their hands down? 
  • Does this mean that we pick on the ones that have been irritating us over the course of the lesson? 
  • Do you allow students to bounce the question on? 
  • Does this mean that students can take the easy route and not try to answer, but make another student in the classroom answer the question instead? 
  • Do you write students names on lollypop sticks and pick them out at random? 
  • Does this mean that you have to then make up the question on the spot and so lose some of the impact for the question in the first place? 

These are very throwaway comments about choices to do with questioning, but they are thoughts that went through my head as a student for sure. 

Questioning when done effectively can be one of the most powerful tools as a teacher, to tease out an idea, trail of thought or answer from a student. However we have to be very careful to maintain the engagement of the other 20/30 odd students in the classroom during this. Due to this, being snappy and considering the style of out questioning is every important. 

I think that we simply need to consider: 

  • What do you want to find out by asking this question? 
  • Is there a way of doing this involving multiple students, rather than just the one that is answering? 
  • Is there a way of having students do this and answer to each other, so that all their thoughts and answers are heard? 

If you consider those questions effectively enough, it will help you to think if there is a more effective way of checking students outer-layer-learning as a whole class, or if it is important that you do check where there knowledge and understanding is at that point. Once you’ve judged it to be an effective approach for assessment of/for learning in your classroom, try this: 

  • Three styles of questions (recall/demonstrate/analyse) 
  • Three different levels of students 
  • Three different sections of the lesson 

This will allow you to target your use of questions in the classroom and cut down on your overall teacher talk, meaning students will be working harder than you! 

Thank you for reading, 

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