“Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.” – Josef Albers
Education instruction has three interactive components: Planning, teaching, and assessment. Planning is where the teacher defines the instructional objectives and outcomes. This leads to choices of teaching methods and learning activities that help students achieve the required outcomes. It is the learning outcomes and instructional activities that guide the assessment techniques. In the end, the assessment results are used to refine the teaching approach.
Good teaching is about listening, questioning, being responsive and remembering that each student and class is different. Questioning should be used to achieve well-defined goals in teaching and learning. Good questioning in the classroom helps to discover what students know, identify their misconceptions, show their progress, fix facts, challenge their beliefs, develop their understanding and reasoning, develop their engagement, and regain their attention and motivation.
Teachers ask questions for a number of reasons, the most common of which are
- to interest, engage and challenge students
- to check on prior knowledge and understanding
- to stimulate recall, mobilizing existing knowledge and experience in order to create new understanding and meaning
- to focus students’ thinking on key concepts and issues
- to help students to extend their thinking from the concrete and factual to the analytical and evaluative
- to lead students through a planned sequence which progressively establishes key understandings
- to promote reasoning, problem solving, evaluation and the formulation of hypotheses
- to promote students’ thinking about the way they have learned
For a teacher to set up good questions they should plan to use questions as strategic points, in terms of pose-pause-pounce, as well as use a mix of open and closed questions to encourage student critical and creative thinking. Check out www.ntemata.io for more on automated question building. One of the tools a teacher can apply for strategic points is the Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchical system for ordering thinking skills from lower to higher.
The teacher defines the kinds of thinking skills expected from students and establishes congruence between the teaching goals and the questions to ask. Teachers often refer to “lower-level” and “higher-level” questions, rather than assigning a specific level to those questions. Lower-level questions are typically at the remember, understand, and apply levels of the taxonomy and are most appropriate for:
- evaluating students’ preparation and comprehension
- diagnosing students’ strengths and weaknesses
- reviewing and/or summarizing content
Higher-level questions involve the ability to analyze, evaluate, or create, and are most appropriate for:
- encouraging students to think more deeply and critically
- problem solving
- encouraging discussions
- stimulating students to seek information on their own
In addition to asking questions at various levels of the taxonomy, a teacher can consider whether to ask closed or open questions. Closed questions, which have one clear answer, are useful to check understanding during explanations and in recap sessions. On the other hand, open questions are used to allow students to give a variety of acceptable responses and when you want to help students develop higher-order thinking skills.
Good questioning helps to ascertain and evaluate student knowledge, and ensure participation. When the right questions are given, student self-efficacy is promoted. It develops the power of expression of the students.
- Be clear about why you are asking the questions. Make sure they will do what you want them to do.
- Plan sequences of questions that make increasingly challenging cognitive demands on students.
- Give students time to answer and provide prompts to help them if necessary.
No teacher can answer all questions and students should be encouraged to think the matter over. Raising questions and knowing the right question to ask is an important learning skill that students need to be taught. For teachers to apply effective questioning, they allow students to engage with the learning process by actively composing responses.