Thinking about questioning

February plays host to World Thinking Day and aside from being an important day for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world, it led me to reflect on how I develop thinking skills in my learners.

One of the main tools that I use as a teacher to invite children to think is the use of questioning. Questioning is threaded through every element of my teaching and it’s responding to varying types of questions that learners develop higher order thinking, creative thinking, use of imagination and ability to speculate.

Ironically, when you’re in the classroom day in and day out, it can be a challenge to find the time to read, research and develop your own practice. However, I recently came across a gem by Ged Gast, former president of the National Society for Education in Art & Design that has refreshed and reinvigorated my own use of this implicit teaching tool.  

Teachers typically ask between 300-400 questions a day – this is a huge amount and by understanding why questioning is used as a teaching tool, it is easy to see why there is such a high volume of questions being asked! Ged explains that questioning as a teaching tool engages learners and helps maintain the flow of learning. Not only is it used to assess what has been learned and check understanding but also to test memory and comprehension. We can better understand the views and opinions of learners and initiate individual and collaborative thinking whilst providing an opportunity for learners to respond to new information. With some simple questioning it’s possible to foster and encourage creative thought, develop speculation and create a sense of shared learning. Ultimately, we want to challenge the level of thinking and possibly mark a change to a higher order of thinking.

With so many functions, and to ensure that questioning is used as effectively as possible, it’s essential to pre-plan questions and select the questioning approaches that will best suit the learning context. My favourite approaches include:

  • Thinking Time: This is where we consciously wait for the learner to think through an answer before we break the silence (e.g. 15-30 secs).
  • Time Out: This is where we give learners time for thinking and talking before we seek an answer.
  • No Hands Questioning: We use a ‘no hands up’ rule so that learners are aware that those required to give an answer, will be selected by the teacher. Teachers alert them to this as questions are asked.
  • Phone a friend: This approach removes stress to enable those who cannot answer to participate. They can nominate a fellow learner to suggest an answer on their behalf, but they still must provide their own answer, perhaps building on this.
  • Hot-seating: A learner is placed in the ‘hot-seat’ to take several questions from the class and teacher.
  • Mantle of the expert: The learners takes on the role of the expert to answer questions.
  • Pair rehearsal: Pairs of learners can discuss and agree responses to questions together.
  • Focus questioning: When learners struggle to answer bigger or more complex questioning, the teacher can model or lead the thinking by asking 'Focus' questions to lead the learner through the steps of the thinking.

If like me, you’re now asking questions about how you can better use questioning to support learners, you can read Ged Gast’s paper  Effective questioning and talk in art and design to find out more.

By Jennie Adams on 22nd February 2018

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