I’ve been thinking a lot about class discussions and effective questioning techniques this week. One of my goals this year is to incorporate higher-level questions which will encourage richer discussions and deeper levels of thinking. Generally in class, I pose questions to establish students’ prior knowledge before we start a topic, to revise what we did last topic, or to check for understanding. But what kind of questions can I ask that will lead to better discussions? And am I asking my questions in the right way? As I discovered whilst reading “What are the tactics of effective questioning?” (Wragg, R. & Brown, G., 2001), there are many elements to consider in order to ask effective questions.
This reading highlights the key tactics involved when asking questions:
- Pitching and putting clearly;
- Directing and distributing;
- Pausing and pacing;
- Prompting and probing;
- Listening to replies and responding;
I’m particularly interested in Directing and distributing, and sequencing questions.
Directing and distributing
It is tempting to always allow the keenest and most able students to answer, they always have their hands up and keep the discussion moving along. But how do I encourage the shy, less-able or disengaged students to contribute to a class discussion? I sometimes ask them directly, or pick on a random student to answer, but I don’t want them to feel mortified having to answer in front of the whole class. Occasionally when I ask a question, I get students to discuss their answers in pairs, then in their table groups, then finally we expand the discussion to the whole class. This allows those students a chance to express their thoughts in a less-threatening environment. Wragg and Brown (2001) raise the question of “whether teachers should only call on pupils whose hands are up.” But in their research, most teachers seem to be opposed to this tactic.
There are different types of sequencing questions. Extending and lifting, the circular path, from narrow to broad, broad to narrow, the random walk. I’m particularly interested in the idea of extending and lifting. Extending involves asking a series of questions at the same level before lifting the level of questions to the next higher level. I could use Bloom’s Taxonomy here – start with knowledge or recall questions then move to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. After a quick Internet search, I found a document with different types of questions for each level. http://www.meade.k12.sd.us/PASS/Pass%20Adobe%20Files/March%202007/BloomsTaxonomyQuestionStems.pdf.
My goal this week? Incorporate at least one higher-level question in my English class. Allow the students to discuss with a pair, then table groups, then class discussion.
Read more: Wragg, R. & Brown, G. (2001). What are the tactics of effective questioning? In Questioning in the secondary school (pp. 27-39). New York: Routeldge Falmer Press.