Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Importance of Effective Questioning

by Kathy Drew  

An essential part of any lesson is questioning. According to Kenneth E. Volger, an assistant professor in the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina,  questioning “is second only to lecturing as the most common instructional practice." Teachers asks questions to check homework, verify comprehension, keep students on task, and review and summarize lessons. These questions are usually a recall of information or knowledge. Often, teachers do not realize that the format, intent, or purpose of the question can actually enhance student learning and add more interest and participation in their lessons.

Every teacher is aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy and his levels of intellectual behavior. The six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy range from basic information recall to creating a variety of solutions to a problem and determining which one was best to use to solve the problem. Most questions are found on the lower order of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers ask students to define words, to list the steps to solving an algorithm, to share the methods used to solve a problem. These questions do not require a lot of mental activity from students. Therefore, the student does not exercise the brain to its fullest capacity. A lot of things are memorized and regurgitated upon command.

What we need to strive for as teachers is having students realize that they are capable of so much more than they know and have untapped potential inside of them. This can be accomplished through effective questioning. By using the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, students become more motivated in learning, extend their learning skills to new ideas, develop their creative nature, and expand their thinking “outside of the box”.

Students do not think the same way. Therefore they need to be encouraged to think of a variety of ways to solve problems. This does not mean that teaching algorithms is not necessary. It does mean that after the students have been introduced to a method or process for solving a problem, they need to be allowed to develop their own technique for solving that same problem. This can be done through questioning. 

Whenever a student solves a problem in a way that is different from the algorithm taught, instead of trying to show a student why their method is not the method taught, teachers need to use that moment to determine why a students is thinking in a particular way. This can be done through a series of questions. (How is this related to the method used in class? What sparked the thought that led you to this method?) In non-mathematical lessons, teachers can ask students to compare and contrast similar ideas, defend their responses with evidence from texts or prior knowledge, connect what they read to something they already know, or give similar examples from other resources. What teachers need to avoid is the low level question unless it is being used to build up to higher level questions.

If students are not taught to think about why (why an algorithm works, why certain events lead to certain outcomes, why certain rules were established, etc.), we are not effectively preparing them to be productive citizens of our society. Questions that require students to provide more than yes or no, true or false, or the equally common “I don’t know” as a response, will prepare students to provide vital information when preparing resumes, select pertinent information when determining the worth of a product, and solve complex multistep problems based on what they know about similar simpler problems. 

Inconsistent and ambiguous questions confuse students and limit their engagement and participation in discussions. Low level questions often limit the challenge children experience in their learning environment. High use of these types of questions often lead students to believe that this level of learning is more important than it really is while not doing a lot to motivate students to engage in higher-level learning. The low-level questions usually require only one correct answer with the correct answers already pre-determined by the teacher.

Teachers should prepare higher level questions in advance and determine their best fit into the discussion ahead of time. The type of question naturally depends on the desired outcome. Some higher level questions may be a series of questions that lead to higher levels of thinking (What is a noun? What are the two types of nouns? What are some nouns found in the classroom? How many common nouns are there in the Pledge of Allegiance?) Other higher level questions may be questions that may range from narrow to broad, low-level specific questions to higher-level general questions, or  broad to narrow, low-level general questions to higher-level specific questions.

It is because of the non-conformists that we have some of the greatest inventions and leaders of our society. These are people who were probably asked the higher order questions or even asked these types of questions themselves. Students need to be encouraged to explore and investigate their ideas. They need to be able to manipulate and analyze information. We need to teach our students the “why” of things so that they can use their skills and knowledge in a variety of ways rather than in a set, compartmentalized, cookie-cutter situation. Effectively questioning students to not only assess their learning but to extend it will create a generation of citizens who will be able to go beyond what they see to innovators who can create, understand, and explain what they imagine.

Kathy Drew is a fourth grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School in Goldsboro, North Carolina, which is located in Wayne County. She is a founding member of the board of NCAEE. She took a year off from the association to assist in her son's recovery from wounds sustained in Iraq. She has served as the Director for Region 2 since its creation. This year, she is serving as the President Elect. She may be contacted at 

No comments:

Post a Comment