Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The Role of Questioning in the Classroom
The use of questions in a classroom is important because it can help teachers check for understanding, promote active participation and challenge deeper understanding. Body language is a good indicator of knowing when a student is struggling, but what if you just can't tell? Asking the student to answer a question whether one-on-one or within a group setting can provide the teacher information to determine if the student understands the material. But not just any kind of question will do. What do you think will be the response will be when you ask your student in front of the class, "Susie, do you understand?" More likely than not, Susie will nod her head to say yes even when she doesn't have a clue about the lesson. Susie will not embarrass herself by offering "no". But if you ask a question that requires elaboration (open-ended), Susie doesn't have the option of giving you either a yes or no answer (closed-ended question).
Open ended questions provide much more information than closed questions, but in what way should I ask questions in my classroom to get the most participation? Questions can be the difference between active participation and passive participation. The use of overhead, direct, and redirected questions are helpful. Overhead questions are designed to stimulate group thought and can be posed to the entire group. The teacher should wait for a volunteer (silence is not the enemy), rephrase the question if necessary, then call on a student if no one answers. Direct questions are designed to check individual learning. They work best if you say the name of the student, pause, then ask. The pause will gain their attention and allow them to focus. It will also give the instructor a way to involve all students (even the shy ones), not just the "smart" kids that tend to raise their hand at every turn. Relay questions are my favorite. When a student asks a question, the teacher relays the question back to the group, or to another individual student. If Susie asks a question, I would turn to the group and ask for a response.
Incorrect answer should also be address carefully by acknowledging the effort first, then providing clarification. Another way to make students feel safe answering questions in class is to build their confidence, using small steps. If you know a student is shy about answering, ask them a question that you know they will give the correct answer. Little by little, as their confidence builds, step up to the next level on Bloom's taxonomy. Their progress may surprise you!
Increasing the level of difficulty of question as it reals to Bloom's taxonomy will probe for deeper understanding of the material. Questions that begin with how and why or asking students to compare or contrast concepts or ideas or even further, evaluate what is given will force students to think critically. Use of questioning also promotes discussion which leads to an introduction of different ideas and viewpoints that students would otherwise not consider.
Finally, you know you have mastered the use of questioning as a teaching tool when you can teach an entire days lesson by simply asking questions. Begin with the end in mind. Write down the questions and answers you want the students to arrive at in the conversation and use your awesome facilitation skills to drive the group to where you want them to go!