The gentle art of questioning: how to get the most from your students
By Janelle McGann
As educators, we have the privilege of posing countless questions to our students each day.
The key to unlocking their full potential lies not in the avoidance of questions but in the artful deployment of a diverse array of inquiry techniques.
We’ve all come to appreciate that the quality of the questions we ask profoundly influences the quality of the responses we receive.
Let’s explore the transformative power of questions as tools to connect our students with their learning objectives, both at the macro and the micro level.
These questions can take on the form of overarching inquiries, encompassing entire units, or they can delve into the profound concepts, such as, “What is justice?”
Consider questions framed within the context of various disciplines, such as, “How do artists convey their thoughts and emotions?” A particular aspect of this broader question may revolve around the expressive capabilities of dance: “What ideas and emotions can we convey through dance?”
Promoting Higher-Order Thinking
To foster robust cognitive engagement, we can turn to Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001) as a guide. It suggests questions designed to stimulate thinking across different levels of cognitive development.
For instance, when we aim to apply abstract concepts to concrete situations or deconstruct complex ideas, we might pose questions like, “What is the function of…?” or “What assumptions underlie this?” or “In what ways is this similar to…?”
Ensuring Active Participation
In my classroom, I employ the No Hands Up approach (except when students wish to ask questions). This method ensures that all students are actively engaged in the thought process. They have the choice to pass or confer with a peer, but they understand their collective involvement in the journey of discovery.
Alternatives to stimulate responses to your questions include techniques like:
- Randomly selecting students using pop-sticks.
- Distributing personal mini whiteboards.
- Employing ‘traffic lights’ to gauge comprehension and seek feedback.
- Implementing ABCD cards for multiple-choice queries.
Supporting and Nurturing Student Thinking
Following the students’ responses, how we react can significantly influence their learning experience.
Studies conducted by Mary Budd Rowe (1986) in her early career revealed that we tend to wait for less than three seconds before either providing the answer, moving on to another student, or even progressing with the lesson without adequate reflection.
To foster more thoughtful responses and conversations, I make sure to incorporate ‘wait time’ after I ask a question, as well as ‘wait time’ after students’ replies. This practice signals to them that I have heard their input and am thoughtfully considering it. I often rephrase their responses or use prompts like ‘thank you, please continue’ or ‘what do you think about…?’
Furthermore, there is an array of engaging electronic tools at our disposal, from Kahoot to Socrative, Nearpod, and Plickers.
Encouraging Self-Questioning and Self-Assessment
One of my favourite tactics is the use of exit tickets. I invite students to jot down their answers or reflections on Post-it notes, which are then displayed on our learning wall. At the outset of the next lesson, we collectively explore these responses.
This practice nurtures a culture of inquiry among our students, encouraging them to ask questions and providing us with the opportunity for personalized feedback and guidance.
In essence, the art of questioning is a dynamic force that, when harnessed effectively, empowers our students, fosters deep engagement, and propels their learning to new heights.
Anderson, L., & Krathwohl D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Longman
Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait Time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up!. Journal of Teacher Education, 37(I), 42-49
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