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The Office for Standards in Education found that questioning was the single most important factor in pupils achievements of high standards. Questioning can be used in a number of ways and is used widely as an effective, powerful learning approach. It plays an important role in the learning process as it not only assesses knowledge but it stimulates thinking.
Pintrich and Schrauben (1992) associate engagement levels with students use of cognitive, behavioural and self-regulatory strategy. In both lessons the students showed high levels of all three strategies. During the lessons many of the children began to actively ask questions themselves, which were relevant to the tasks at hand and fell into their definition of behavioural strategy, displaying high levels of engagement and participation. Jarvis (2007) suggests that this behavioural involvement the first stage of the learning process. He believes that good teaching will carefully put learners in 'disjuctural' situations which evoke such questions and therefore start individual learning processes.
In both lessons the overall structure was very similar, the starter activity was conducted as a class, the main body in small groups, however the plenary activities differed. Numeracy had a whole class evaluation and science individual assessment through a work sheet. The lessons were planned and constructed to ensure continuity with the aim of meeting the learning objectives.
Bloom's Taxonomy of Education Objectives in 1956, suggests that learners are empowered when they understand the level of the question. Effective classroom questioning will move through the levels of Bloom's taxonomy, as it is a tiered system of questioning, lower level to higher level and the complexity increases from knowledge through to evaluation (Bloom 1956). This process of questioning was used in the lessons I observed, lower level questioning was used at the beginning of both the starter activities. These are closed questions concerned with recall, comprehension and application. These were used to impart knowledge and assist pupils in memorising information.
The pace within the two whole class starter activities were very different, the numeracy focused on lower order questioning with the aim to assess prior knowledge and ensure understanding. This was particularly evident with the weaker ability pupils, as the investigation could not be completed without this former knowledge. In comparison the Science introduction started with lower level questioning but rapidly moved onto higher level questioning. These are open-ended concerned with; analysis, synthesis and evaluation; and are fundamental to the learning process. Previous knowledge was not essential. Open-ended questions were used to stimulate thinking in order to come up with a hypothesis.
The main of both lessons fast moving encouraging pupils to move quickly through analysis and review to get to new learning points. They involved the pupils working in small groups with one fundamental difference. In numeracy, the groups were set by the teacher and children were placed with others of the same ability, whereas in science students choose their own partners. Scaffolding was used, when needed lead questions were asked to encourage learning through the activity. Socratic method, named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, was used in both lessons. This technique involves not giving information directly but instead asks a series of questions, with the result that the student comes either to the desired knowledge by answering the questions or to a deeper awareness of the limits of knowledge
As mentioned, the plenary of both lessons took different routes. In science the plenary activity was an individual worksheet to assess knowledge learnt and when marked the whole class had met the learning objective. Whereas in numeracy the plenary activity was a whole class activity with verbal questioning to cement learning, and in my opinion was not an effective plenary. In 2001 the OFSTED review stated that â€œthe plenary is poorly used if it is simply a bolt-on-extra which provides an opportunity for groups of pupils to present their work daily; it is an essential time for making sure that pupils have grasped the objectives and made progress, so that the next lesson can begin on firm foundationsâ€. There were some students that needed more clarification and a deeper plenary would of brought those issues to light.
Questions were well planned and followed a sequence. A technique used by the teacher in both lessons was put to a question to the class, a brief pause and then a child's name was stated. This technique encouraged everyone to listen and prepare an answer in anticipation of being asked. More complex questions focused on brighter pupils and easier questions for others. This was a very effective planned learning opportunity for all abilities as it helped to sustain different motivational levels and maintain the flow of the lesson. (Cohen, Mannion and Morrison 2004 p283).
Praise management was also evident in both lessons, according to Hewitt (2008 p99) effective learners are not always confident and they often have strategies to support their own self-esteem and motivation. He suggests that effective learners are able to manufacture opportunities within their learning to receive praise from their teacher.
â€œJudge a man by his questions rather than by his answersâ€ (Voltaire 1694-1778). Teachers have limited ability to teach students anything, instead they can only motivate students to teach themselves. Questioning is an effective method to enhance this learning, however students asking questions is just as important.
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