The quality of the questions we ask can mean all the difference between learning and not learning.
Poor questioning techniques can confuse pupils and create more obstacles and barriers so it’s important we can identify what works and what doesn’t.
Here are 10 techniques that are getting in the way. Do a self-audit and see if you use any of these:
1. Being superficial
Surface structure questions don’t do pupils any favours because they offer no cognitive demand. If your questions are low in challenge then what’s the point? Questions need to probe and communicate a culture of high expectation.
2. Asking too few questions
Teachers ask lots of questions but just how many do you ask in a lesson? Sometimes this can be fewer than you think. Keep asking questions so that a culture of questioning becomes the norm.
3. Using the ‘wrong’ language
If we use vocabulary that is too advanced or too simplistic then our questions become meaningless. Pitching the level of sophistication at the Goldilocks ‘just right’ level is key so that children can engage and extend. Concept checking is vital.
4. Poorly expressed questions
Questions that are poorly phrased can stump children and leave them slack-jawed in stupefaction. The use of double-negatives can easily up-end understanding and leave pupils non-plussed. Questions that aren’t precise super-size confusion and frustration.
5. Making questions right or wrong
Sometimes there is no ‘right’ answer. Sometimes there is. The way we manage responses is crucial to pupil confidence. The last thing we want is for pupils to fear giving a response because they worry about our reaction. Set a culture of open-minded acceptance of all responses as stepping stones towards a fuller understanding.
6. Multiple questions within a question
Avoid asking more than one question within a question so that children are not overloaded and confused. Stick to one question at a time.
7. Asking certain pupils
It’s easy to fall into the trap of asking particular pupils questions more than others. The class should be a level playing field. Ensure that your questions are inclusive.
8. Read my mind
You might start asking a question and simply move around the class until someone can eventually what’s on your mind. If the class don’t get something, edit, rephrase and rework. If you are getting nowhere fast then tell them!
9. No wait time
If you expect immediate answers to your questions then good luck. Children need time to process and think things through. Don’t expect something to fly back at you as soon as you have hit your question ball over the net.
10. Leading questions
We might ask questions that already contain the answer and so by asking them we are merely asking for approval or agreement.
Does this make sense? Are you with me? Everyone get it? No? Let’s move on.