Given that questioning techniques are arguably the most important element of good teaching and learning (cue furious debate?) I have a shameful confession. After some serious self-reflection, I have decided that questioning techniques have been my weakness. I just don’t plan enough variety. I have been guilty, in the past, of being extremely nervous in a silent classroom. Because of this I have sometimes failed to give my students enough time to think before I expect a response. I hate and despise being put on the spot without being given time to prepare and it makes me ridiculously uncomfortable. It has also frequently resulted in my sounding like a complete idiot. Given these facts, this is unforgivable. I simply shouldn’t be putting my students in this position. Early on in my career I was also picked up on for answering my own question about two seconds after I had asked it to the student. What exactly is this supposed to achieve? It is a bad habit (which I thankfully managed to break quite quickly) which means the students don’t have to listen carefully the first time because I will just repeat myself. I said I will repeat myself. And I will repeat myself once more if you’re quiet and trying to think.
So, redemption time. This week I am resolved to try out three different questioning techniques with my classes. Here they are:
Replacing the objective with a key question
I’m a massive believer in objectives. I don’t necessarily mean the whole “write-the-objective-on-the-board-at-the-start-of-every-lesson” thing. I like to mix it up and sometimes get the students involved in creating their own objective to drive their own learning. I like objectives for the simple reason that, when a student leaves my class, they are clear on what they have learnt. So, I’m going to replace this with a key question.
Instead of “Develop an understanding of the treatment of Crooks in the novel” I’m going to try “Do you think the treatment of Crooks in the novel is fair?” I’m hoping that framing this as a question will stimulate interest and enquiry. With a bit of luck, it’ll be one of those lovely lessons when they are still discussing it as they leave the classroom.
Narrow to broad planned questions
I’m going to pattern my questioning in order for the cognitive level to increase. I’ll start with the lower level “knowledge” type questions, broaden them out and end up with some higher level questions. I’ll be using Bloom’s taxonomy to help me structure the questions.
What is Crooks’ room like?
Select one of the objects in his room and explore why Steinbeck may have included it
Why do the men treat Crooks differently?
Now by this I don’t mean I’m going to try and make by students cry. I’m just going to try to ask questions that require them to empathise, such as “How do you think you would feel if you were Crooks?”
Just by adding the “you” into the question to try to evoke emotion, I’m hoping that my students will engage on a more personal level. As Plato says “All learning has an emotional base”. If it’s good enough for Plato….
There is nothing ground breaking here. And, to be honest, nothing here that I haven’t done before. What these simple tweaks are going to allow me to do is really reflect on my questioning techniques for the week and consider the impact it has on both my teaching and, more importantly, the learning of my students.
Have you tried any new and exciting questioning techniques recently? If so, please share with a comment below. Thanks!