Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Asking all the wrong questions?

I have been pondering the issue of questioning (and questions in general) in recent weeks. I have always hoped that it is a key strength of my lessons, but lately I have been thinking more about what kind of questions I am asking.

I recently completed the Tapestry Partnership training on leading TLCs (see http://www.tapestrypartnership.com for details) and a key part of this focused on questions (and especially "hinge questions") as central to AifL.  Now, I am not saying that there is no room for improvement, but I definitely ask plenty of higher order questions as well as open-ended ones.  There are hundreds of interesting articles on questioning written and available, but I like the simplicity of the layout of this one:  http://www.nsead.org/downloads/Effective_Questioning&Talk.pdf

In reading this, I was struck that the first mentioned reason for asking questions was to "maintain the flow of the learning within the lesson".  While I agree that this is a big part of asking questions, it made me think about the purpose of my own questions and the extent to which that is the biggest reason for my asking questions. I use 'Think, Pair, Share' very often in my lessons and I like this as a way of structuring paired work as well as to support learners.  However, I have noticed that I am developing a tendency to ask questions that are looking for a very closed, negative response.  For example, yesterday I asked "Did the Germans want to fight a war on two fronts?" with the clear response my brain wanted was "No".  This led me to think about the frequency of this style of question.  Am I simply wanting pupils to realise an obvious truth through this or is it just lazy questioning?  I observed this technique recently with a guide in a visitor attraction who almost entirely asked questions of this nature to engage the visitors.  Surely this is not a desirable method for this purpose.  Or am I missing something?

In answering this, I refer to the earlier article.  Which reason for asking questions does this accomplish?  Perhaps engaging students with learning or to seek the views and opinions of students.  However, I am becoming more aware that this is a very closed question and that there is definitely a right answer.  Moreover, it's worse than that; I am asking a question that is so badly considered and easily answered as to be pointless.  But then why do I not ask the positive question on the same?  It seems this 'negative' response does elicit a little more thinking than the 'positive' but the frequency should be minimised.

An alternative could be the carefully selected multiple choice in order to make pupils think more.  Multi-choice questions have a bad reputation as the easy way out, but there is no doubt that they can stimulate much deeper thinking than some realise.  This is a good place to start when thinking about these:  https://testing.byu.edu/handbooks/14%20Rules%20for%20Writing%20Multiple-Choice%20Questions.pdf

Next Steps:
I plan to be observed in the coming weeks and would like the observer to focus on my questioning.  Here's hoping for less useless questions!

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