The use of teacher questions in learning and teaching

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Questioning is one of the most important skills in effective teaching. Through questioning a teacher can help students form relationships, ensure success, induce the involvement of inattentive students, and enhance students' self-esteem (Eggen & Kauchak, 1996, P40).

Researchers overwhelmed with questioning techniques highlighted the importance of questioning in teaching as an effective tool in teaching. A question is defined as: "any sentence that has an interrogative form" (Cotton, Undated). In a classroom, the teacher's questions are meant to be a tool intended to communicate the content elements to be learned and the instructions for what they are expected to do and the manner to do it. (Cotton, (Undated). Aschner (1961) cited in. Gall (1970), for example, called the teacher "a professional question maker" and claimed that asking questions is one of the basic ways by which the teachers stimulated students thinking and learning.


This paper is an attempt to investigate the use of the different types of questions inside the classroom in relation to the cognitive theories.

Background and significance:

This study is conducted at Fujairah Institute of Nursing (ION).This institute is one out of three institutes from the Ministry of Health (MOH) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are teaching nursing diploma for local and expatriates. There are three levels of students; these are diploma one (DI), diploma two (DII), and diploma three (DIII).

At Fujairah ION, there are thirteen teachers; some of them are Bachelors' degree holders while others are master prepared. The experience of the teachers ranges between two to fifteen years. The teachers usually apply two methods of teaching according to the ION policy; these are Lecture Based and Case Based education.

The admission criteria of acceptance of students emphasize that students must pass the high school with an average of 70% in the scientific stream. All courses are taught in English.

On the basis of my personal teaching experience in the nursing field for the last ten years, seven of them as a senior nursing tutor at the ION - MOH - UAE. I have noticed that good questioning technique is essential in the development of student's understanding and critical thinking. Moreover, the main goal of the ION is to develop long life learner through the use of Case Based Learning Method and interactive Lecture Based Method where the teacher showered the students with different types of questions to facilitate the discussion in the classroom. This could not happen effectively if the facilitators have no questioning technique. Furthermore, because of my personal interest in improving the quality of teaching and questioning technique in ION, and since nobody has investigated the impact of good questioning on student's understanding. I feel the urge to study the contribution of this aspect to the learning process. The result is expected to uncover the level of questioning (high- order, low order) and the effect of questions on students' comprehension.

Literature review

The use of questioning helps teachers to examine learners' comprehension. Questioning is also useful for learners as it encourages engagement and focuses their thinking on key concepts and ideas. Good teaching involves how to ask questions for maximum effect.

Some teachers' questions are low cognitive ones that ask students to give background information that they already have. Such questions have various advantages (1994, Airasian, et al) cited in Omrod, J, E. (2007)(P475).First, questioning gives us an understanding of the students' previous knowledge and incorrect ideas about atopic. Second, they tend to look after students' concentration on the lesson progress. Third, they help us assess whether students are learning difficult material effectively or are puzzled about particular emphasis. Fourth, they give students the chance to observe their understanding. Finally, questions about the earlier learned information promote review of the material, which should foster greater remembrance afterwards.

Another type of questions is the high cognitive questions - those that entail the students to think critically beyond what they have learned (Minstrell and Stimpsen, 1996; Progrow and Londer 1994) cited in Omrod, J, E. (2007)(P475). Using the higher- level questions help students to think of their own examples of thoughts, use new standards to solve a problem or hypothesize about possible interpretation of cause & effects relationship and to promote critical thinking.

One of the basic theories in questioning was reflected in Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy (1956) who builds a system of categories of learning behavior to help us in designing and assessing educational learning. The taxonomy was ordered in degree of difficulty from simple recall of facts on the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order creating (synthesis) after being modified by his informer student Anderson (1994). (See Appendix E). An important principle of Bloom's Taxonomy is that each level must be mastered before making progress to the next. The key element of Bloom's taxonomy is in its prompt that we want students to have many levels at skills. Bloom found that over 95% of the test questions require the students to think only at the minimum level.

Teachers should be professional in the formulation of the questions and pay attention to their wordings as broad or narrow wording could limit students' response. Furthermore, teachers' questions should be based on the cognitive level of students rather than their grades.

Piaget, another psychologist, stated that learning and thinking involve learner's participation. Knowledge is not purely transmitted verbally but must be constructed and reconstructed by the learner. Intelligence is well kept through assimilation and accommodation; therefore, experiences should be considered to give chances for assimilation and accommodation. According to Piaget, learners need to explore, to manipulate, to experiment, to question, and to search out answers for themselves - activity is essential. Instruction should be individualized as much as possible and learners should communicate with each others, to dispute and discuss issues. Piaget considers teachers as facilitators of knowledge - they instruct, engage and motivate students. Learning is much more meaningful when learning springs from their experiences. Consequently, teachers can use various types of questions to stimulate the learners' thinking about abstract concepts taking into consideration their developmental level since development precedes learning.

Teachers should carefully plan their questions and move from one stage to another depending on the cognitive process of the learner, Therefore, there should be a correspondence between the cognitive level of teachers' questions and the cognitive ability of the students' answers.

According to Vygotsky (1920s-1934), intellectual development takes place in term of social history and sociocultural background (Luria, I 976). That is, cognitive skills and patterns of thinking of an individual are not inborn factors, but are gained from interaction within his sociocultural environment. Vygotsky believed that learning takes place when children are working within their zone of proximal development (ZPD). That is, the ZPD describes tasks that a child has not yet learned but is capable of learning at a given time. A key idea derived from Vygotsky's notion of social learning is that of scaffolding; the assistance provided by more competent peers or adults. Typically, scaffolding means providing a child with a great deal of support during the early stages of learning. The teacher should consider engaging students at the upper levels enthusiastically without overwhelming them. Vygotsky considered that the teacher as a scaffold that can help the individuals learn by adjusting his instructions and questions according to the child's level of performance--is an effective form of teaching. Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky believed that learning proceeds development.

Vygostyan psychology (Vygotskij, 1978, 1999, 2002); any knowledge is based on a particular level of abstraction. As a result, the proper use of teachers' question even in the form of fact could lead to abstraction which is contrary to Bloom.

A considerable number of researchers have studied the use of questions in the classroom by the teachers and their findings were congruent. The number and types of questions asked by teachers during the teaching process varies. According to Gall, (1970) the use of questions in the classroom over a fifty year period reveals that the main trend has been the development of techniques to describe questions used by teacher. It is clear for educators that questions play an important role in teaching. Aschner (1961) called the teacher "a professional questions maker". Flander (1970) cited in Gall, (1970) P3) stated that asking question is one of the 10 major discussions for studying teachers' behaviors in the widely used system for interaction analysis. Hastings (1912) cited in Gall (1970) P3). An average teacher asks 400 questions in a day, this means that most of the teaching time is occupied with questions and answers. Educators generally see eye to eye that teachers should stress the development of students' skill in critical thinking rather than in recalling facts. According to Gall, About 60% of teacher's quest on recall facts, about 20% require students to think and the remaining 20% are procedural.

In another study by Hussein (2006), three teachers observed asked a total of 782 questions comprising academic, non-academic, and pseudo questions in sixteen observation sessions. The observer documented (526) questions, three hundred fifty four (354 or 67.3%) of these questions were in the academic category. The majority of the academic questions were low-level (458, 87%) and the remaining 68 questions (13%) were high-level.

In the study of Graesser and Person (1994), 96% of the questions in a classroom environment are teachers' questions. In addition to being rare and short, student questions are also simple (Dillon, 1988; Flammer, 1981; Kerry, 1987) cited in Graesser & Person). That is, they are normally superficial, short-answer questions that deal with the content and interpretation of clear-cut material; they are rarely high-cognitive questions that involve inferences, multistep analysis, or the assertion of critical judgment.

Research Question:

This paper is an attempt to answer the following question:

What types of questions are used by the teacher?

How different or similar are these questions to the researches findings?



A descriptive study design will be used to study the level of questions posed by the teachers, based on the revised Bloom's taxonomy of the question level. The results will be tabulated using simple statistical analysis to mention some: Totals, and Percentages,

Sample and Setting

The researcher will conduct two sessions of observations in two nursing classes. These are: DI & DII; each class consists of 25 and 28 adult students respectively and learns through lecture based method. They lie in the (Formal operational stage of development) according to Piaget.

Two teachers will be observed are: first is a holder of a master degree in Medical surgical nursing, has an experience for two years in nursing education; the second possess a Bachelor's Of Nursing Science, and has seven years of teaching experience.

The questioning technique of the teacher will be assessed and evaluated through direct classroom observation in relation to the cognitive theory (Bloom, Piaget and Vygotsky)

The revised version of Bloom's taxonomy (updated by Anderson, 1994) will be used as a procedure to evaluate the level of questioning.(See appendix E)

The ethical considerations of conducting this piece of research were carefully considered. Three consent letters were obtained from the Branch Manager as well as the concerned teachers.


1. A letter will be sent to the principal to get permission for observation. (Appendix C)

2. A letter will be sent to the concerned teachers that I will attend their classes. (Appendix D)

3. The classroom questioning observation time will be 100 minutes, 50 minutes for each Class session.

4. The findings of the study will be compared with the results of the studies done by Gall, 1970 (The use of questions in teaching), Graesser and Person 1994, (Question asking during tutoring) and Hussein, 2006 (Dimensions of Questioning: A Qualitative Study of Current Classroom Practice in Malaysia).

Data Analysis

The number and type of teachers' will be counted and analyzed. I calculated the frequency of questions asked by the teachers and categorized them according to high cognitive order and low cognitive order based on bloom's taxonomy. The percentage of the total number of questions was calculated to facilitate readability and comparison between two classes.


Level of question

Class I

Class II

Low Cognitive


25 (66%)

17 (63%)


10 (26%)

6 (22%)







2 (5%)

2 (7%)



1 (3%)

2 (7%)







With respect to this number of questions:

The findings of this study showed that the number of asked questions (C1 =38, C2 =27) falls in range with the findings of the study of (Graesser and Natalie) '30 to 120 questions per hour'

With respect to the frequency of low cognitive questions:

It is obvious from the findings that the majority of questions (C1 =92%, C2 =85%) lie in the low cognitive order. Compared to the findings of (Gall. 1970) and Hussein (2006) who respectively found that 77% and 87%of teachers' questions are of factual type. The number of questions which lie in low cognitive order is quite higher based on my personal class room observations; even the questions asked at the higher level (C1 =8%, C2 =14%) were not answered correctly by the students. Teachers were noticed to feed the students with appropriated responses which will not stimulate abstract thinking but contrary to that recalling and memorization will; term to be the actual term fro eg.

1. Scaffolding

Teacher: What is the effect of pulmonary hypertension on the right side of the heart?

Students: did not respond to the question.

Teacher Scaffold them: Could describe the pulmonary circulation.

2. Formal operational: How is the clinical presentation of right ventricular failure different from the left side ventricular failure?

Students: No response

Moving backward from formal to concrete was quoted in the following event:

Teacher: What are the functions of the left and right side of the heart?

Although the teacher was asking questions at frequent mode there was no enough attention to the level of the asked questions; most of the question did require recalling and rote memory learning. This is an indication that either teachers are not well trained or the higher order cognitive questions are not properly formulated or the students are not well coached to respond to such types of question. Students' preparation plays a role in responding to higher level of questioning. If students are not well prepared, they will not be able to group the essential theme of the asked question and thus they will not catch up the higher cognitive level questions.

Connection with learning Theories:

During my classroom observations, I was able to find a link between many of the teacher's questions and the cognitive theories from example.

1. Vygotsky /scaffolding:

- Teacher: what is the effect of left ventricular failure on the cardiac output?

- Students: didn't respond to the teacher and seemed confused.

- Teacher gave them a hint by simplifying the questions what are the determinants of Cardiac out?

- Students answered:" Blood pressure, and contraction.

- Teacher: What is the effect of contract on CO?

2. Formal à Concrete (Piaget)

Teacher: What is the rationale behind dypsnea in pt having left ventricular failure?

Students: didn't answer

Teachers: (moves to concrete)

What causes dypsnea?

Student: lung disorder

Teacher: What is wrong with lung?


Teachers must be aware of the different level of questions.

Teachers should be alert to the importance of effective classroom question technique in promoting student understandings.

Training program should be conducted for teachers.

Students should be trained and coached on how to respond to higher order questions.

Teachers should be aware that even higher order questions could be misused to fall in the low cognitive order.

Teacher should consider that each student does not learn in the same way.

Teachers should stimulate all the students to ask and participate in the discussion.

Teachers should make sure that appropriate waiting time is given to answer the questions considering the level of the question.

Teachers should ask questions that encourage students to use strategies and critical thinking skills.


Good questioning technique improves the understanding of the students and consequently the outcome of the cognitive learning when the questions match the cognitive abilities of the students. Accordingly learning and cognitive theories should be implemented in the classrooms.

Moreover, the result of this study supports the recommendations of Gall that teachers do need in-service and professional development programmed to improve their questioning skills. Furthermore, the findings of Gall and Hussein are prevalent in the current study. There are no essential changes from 1970 till 2010.

The researcher noticed that the questions were not distributed equally among the students even a considerable part of students were not engaged in the discussion especially in DII. This could be due to poor or inadequate preparation of the students, although it is the responsibility of the teacher to stimulate all the students. Moreover, there was a noticeable problem in the question-answer waiting time; for e.g. the teacher gave 15 seconds for a low cognitive question whereas a high cognitive question was given 12 seconds.

The great bulk of the questions were administered by the teachers and students were not encouraged to ask questions.

Limitations of the study

It is worthy to mention that the scope of this study is limited to two teachers of nursing in one school in an educational zone.

Some variables like teacher's preparation which influence the questioning skills were not measured.

Students' preparation and questions were not measured also.