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Questioning is a very useful but complex skill, it can be used as a quick check that a particular pupil has been paying attention, to deepen understanding or develop imagination. However perhaps questioning's most valuable function is that we can use it to find out what a child already knows. Once we establish what a child already knows we can then teach him or her accordingly. To put it simply questions are asked to facilitate learning.
In order to determine if our questioning will be effective we first need to consider the type of thinking that our questions will bring about promote. This is where Bloom taxonomy comes in for example in terms of Blooms categories of cognitive processes; it might be knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis or evaluation (Bloom et al 1956). Bloom divided these categories of questioning into what he called higher and lower order questions. Lower order questions simply require the recall of facts, terms or basic concepts whereas higher order questions require some manipulation of information such as reasoning or evaluation. Lower order questions are similar to ‘closed' questions in that they usually have answers that are clearly right or wrong, higher order questions on the other hand are similar to ‘open' questions where a number of correct answers are possible, these questions require more thought and a more extensive and elaborate answer. It is these higher order questions that encourage children to think. Within Bloom's taxonomy learning at the higher levels is dependent on having already attained knowledge at the lower levels.
Therefore Bloom believed that in order for questioning to be effective you should begin with the lower level questions and then work ones way up to the higher order questions. SO FOR INSTANCE WHEN on my teaching practice I was reading a comprehension in guided reading with my group called The Invisible Dog by Dick King-Smith when finished I began by asking lower order questions; ‘Who was Rupert?' this question elicited responses from the children based on the recall for instance ‘Rupert was the dog.' ‘What type of dog was Rupert?' ‘He was a Great Dane.' Then after four such questions I moved on to higher order questions ‘Why did Janie feel sad when she first found the collar?' I waited for longer after I had asked this question and the answers that I received were longer and more elaborate for example one student answered ‘I think when Janie found Rupert's collar it brought back memories of when Rupert had been alive and when she had walked him with her parents and she felt sad because she misses him and knows that he is never coming back.'
Hilda Taba also shared a similar view regarding effective questioning; just as Bloom Taxonomy stated that questioning should begin with lower order questions and work its way up to higher order questions Taba's notion of extending and lifting involves asking a series of questions at the same level before lifting the level of questions to the next higher level. Taba suggested that if pupils were to reach more complex levels of thought, they need plenty of opportunity to work at lower levels by being asked for, or generating their own examples and solutions.
Hilda Taba believed educational curriculum should promote and encourage students to think independently rather than just teaching them to recall facts.. After working with John Dewey, Benjamin Bloom, Ralph W. Tyler, Deborah Elkins, and Robert Havinghurst, she wrote a book entitled Curriculum Development: Theory and Practice (1962). Taba wrote:
‘One scarcely needs to emphasize the importance of critical thinking as a desirable ingredient in human beings in a democratic society. No matter what views people hold of the chief function of education, they at least agree that people need to learn to think. In a society in which changes come fast, individuals cannot depend on routinized behavior or tradition in making decisions, whether on practical everyday or professional matters, moral values, or political issues. In such a society, there is a natural concern that individuals be capable of intelligent and independent thought.'
Therefore when planning a lesson it is important that we have a mixture of lower and also higher order questions. These higher order questions are often referred to as ‘key questions' ‘everyone agrees the key to effective questioning is the use of the ‘key' question.' Morgan and Saxton. In order for questioning to be effective teachers have to have in mind key questions around which teachers ask a large number of shorter closed questions. Effective questioning usually occurs when teachers have in mind key questions around which are clustered a large number of briefer, more direct and specific questions .key questions should be linked to the objective of the lesson as it helps to keep us structure the lesson and keep the children focused and on track. We can see from the Leverhulme research project that in order for a lesson to be inspiring it should contain a sense of looking ahead, lessons that focus nearly completely on what children already know do not provide any stimulation or challenge for the children In the Leverhulme research project it was found that the teachers who had taught the most stimulating lessons very often provided a reason which contained a sense of looking ahead- the intention was evident. The least effective seemed to be looking nowhere or focused almost entirely upon what the children knew already. Therefore we can see how important it is to use effective questioning to establish what stage the children are at in their learning perhaps through closed i.e lower order questions and then once this has been established extend their learning by relating the key questions to the expressed aims of the lesson and provide episodes of questioning and explaining during the lesson.
Once you have established what your key questions are going to be you must consider the tactics that you will use to ask these questions. Firstly in order for your questions to be effective they must be put clearly using words and phrases that are appropriate to the group. Then they must be distributed correctly. Distributing questions around the group not only involves more pupils but it also reduces the risk of losing attention and class control. Pausing briefly after an answer encourages more pupils to answer, more of the pupils to provide longer answers and also more questions from pupils. Rowe, (1978, in Cummings 1989) develops an interesting case for what he calls ‘ wait time' , where teachers' allow some time (‘wait-time') after asking a general question to the class or an individual. Rather than a simple ‘ What is the...?' (expecting a right or wrong answer) the teacher frames the question more thoughtfully: ‘Think about the difference between....Raise your hand when you are ready with the answer. Take a moment to imagine....' the teacher then scans the group allowing some ‘wait time' after asking the question and after the student's response. According to Rowe the use of wait time encourages students to give longer answers and encourages more students to give an answer, increases students confidence and makes it easier for ‘slower' students to contribute and generally has a encouraging impact on classroom behaviour.
Although key questions are vital in order for questioning to be effective, prompts and probes are also very important. Prompts and probes are follow up questions when the first answers are inadequate or incorrect. There are many ways to prompt students you can rephrase the question using different sometimes simpler words or ask simple questions that will lead back to the original question. Providing the children with a review of the information given and going back over the questions will often help the students to recall or see the answer. Probing questions are probably the most important tactic for developing the thinking of pupils. When it comes to using probes they should be asked in an encouraging way, so that they are providing a challenge and are even fun otherwise they could be intimidating and cause the student to close up. Once you have asked a question and received an answer and perhaps even prompted or probed with follow up questions if the first answers were inappropriate you must then listen carefully to the answer you are being given with and respond accordingly.
After we question we must then listen; listening and responding are the corner stone's of a lesson. Where listening and responding really come in is with the sequence and structuring of a lesson. They are the method by which new information is introduced, the topic is changed, the discussion is moved on and the lesson is moved back on course. When we are listening carefully to what our students Some important ways of conveying that you are listening and are interested are to take a pupils answer and build on it or ask other pupils to build on it or refer to a previous contribution from a pupil and to link it to the present contribution thereby showing the connections between the pupils contributions and the topic under discussion. It is also helpful to incorporate the pupils contributions by name into your summaries and reviews of what has been learnt.
It is also important to match the question to the target pupil as answering questions is often a high risk and emotionally charged activity, in part because it is usually public and in part because it usually involves explicit teacher judgement. The teacher's use of questions can thus have a profound influence on the whole tone of the lesson and on the rapport which develops between the teacher and the pupils. In order to protect a pupil's self esteem and develop pupil self confidence the teacher needs to ensure that questioning takes place in an encouraging and supportive atmosphere. Convey the message that all attempts to answer will be respected and valued.