In class, teachers spend a majority of their time asking students questions. A case study by the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice showed that the teachers did not have a planned structure when questioning. Without a plan, the questioning session may lack clear purpose and direction. How can teachers be more effective when asking questions in class?
Why Use Questioning?
Questioning is second only to lecturing in terms of popularity as a teaching method. Research indicates that 30% to 50% of a teacher’s instructional time is spent conducting questioning sessions (Cotton, 1988).
Teachers find questioning a critical instructional tool as it facilitates communication, engages the students and focuses their attention on a topic. It also allows teachers to assess their students’ learning, develop their interest and challenge them.
It is evident that questioning plays an important role in class instruction. So how can we ensure that teachers maximize these sessions and that the questions asked meet the lesson objectives?
What Questions Are Being Asked in Class?
A case study from the Learner’s Perspective Study (see box story for details) found that the teachers’ questioning lacked a planned structure. Also, a large proportion of questions asked at all levels were low-order questions.
Low-order questions are useful for facilitating recall of facts and procedures. High-order questions, on the other hand, are used to test knowledge application, evaluation and creation of new ideas. Questions of this nature are ideal for developing thinking skills. (Cole & Chan, 1987)
What Constitutes Effective Questioning?
“Questions should always be purpose driven” (Godinho & Wilson, 2008, p. 1). Good questioning begins with sound planning and being clear about the objectives of the lesson. Teachers need to pay attention to the design of the questions as well as the manner in which the questions are delivered.
Here are some tips summarized from Teaching Principles and Practice (Cole & Chan, 1987):
1. What questions to ask
- Ask a variety of questions
Questions should cover the entire range of lesson objectives. Include both low- and high-orders questions that are relevant and related to the skills and content of the lesson.
- Pitch questions at students’ ability level
This increases the chances of students getting a right answer. Students’ self-confidence will improve and they will be more receptive to answering questions and learning similar tasks.
- Phrase questions clearly and directly
Use language and vocabulary that students understand so that they may be able to respond appropriately.
2. How to ask questions
- Field questions one at a time
Asking too many questions at one time might confuse students.
- Order questions in a logical sequence
You can start with easy questions and proceed to more difficult ones. This helps students better understand the flow of the content.
- Allow adequate time for students to reply
This encourages higher-order thinking as students have more time to process their thoughts. Giving some wait time allows students to give more meaningful answers.
- Allow all students to participate
Encourage all students to share in the discussion and do not favour any students. Students will be more willing to participate if they know that everyone’s contribution is being valued.
- Do not always repeat your questions and answers
Students will lose interest if questions are repeated. Repeat or rephrase a question only when students have difficulty understanding it.
Engage and Stimulate Your Students Intellectually
Effective questioning enhances communication between students and teachers. Most importantly, it stimulates students and challenges their thinking.
“When a question engages pupils and motivates them to ask further questions or challenge their ideas, it has the potential to take pupils beyond their current thinking and engage them in higher-order thinking” (Godinho & Wilson, 2008, p. 2).
Students exposed to effective questioning learn to ask effective questions themselves. This skill is especially useful in this knowledge-intensive era where students will require critical thinking skills to question what they read and hear.
Benedict, T. M., & Kaur, B. (2007). Using teacher questions to distinguish pedagogical goals: A case study of three Singapore teachers. Paper presented at the international conference on Redesigning Pedagogy: Culture, Knowledge and Understanding, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Brophy, J. E., & Good, T. L. (1986). Teacher behaviour and student achievement. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 328-75). New York: Macmillan.
Cole, P. G., & Chan, L. K. S. (1987). Teaching principles and practice. New York: Prentice Hall.
Cotton, K. (1988). Classroom questioning (School Improvement Research Series). Retrieved July 31, 2009, from http://www.nwrel.org/archive/sirs/3/cu5.html
Godinho, S., & Wilson, J. (2008). Helping your pupils to ask questions. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.