My school has done a lot of work in developing questioning skills to support teaching and learning. The idea of “fat” and “skinny”/open and closed questions has been emphasised in student research projects and discussion building. “Enabling” and “extending” prompts is our current focus in Mathematics differentiation in particular to cater for the needs of the wide spectrum of skill levels.
One aspect we haven’t covered enough as a school that I have always seen as an area for improvement is how teachers elicit responses from the students themselves during lessons. This is something I always emphasize in my role as a mentor for graduate teachers. One of the easiest traps to fall into as a teacher is assuming your lesson has been effective because there was ‘lots of discussion’ and ‘student participation’. The students “seemed to understand because all of my questions were answered.” However, through closer scrutiny, this usually translates into ” the top 10 smart kids/teacher pleasers answered all the questions while the rest added to their doodle collection or planned their lunchtime activities while staring at the oval out the window.”
Targeted questioning addresses this issue in different ways. I model to my graduate teachers the art of catching students, especially the reluctant participants, understanding something during the lesson. I then ask a question directly to those students, knowing they can answer the question. This builds their self esteem because they are prepared for the answer and encourages further participation.
In preparing lessons for Literacy using the “Reading to Learn” program/strategy, one of the key factors for success is creating differentiated questions that involve all students in the discussion and comprehension of the text being explored. For the less able readers, prompts are prepared to direct them to specific sections of the text while extension questions encourage the higher achievers to share their knowledge to support the comprehension of others. This kind of targeted questioning enables full class participation. The fact that students know that a question will be directed personally at them rather than the ‘get out’ clause of ‘hands up who wants to answer’ places expectations on them to follow the text and think about a response at all times.
And then there is this YouTube video I’ve just come across thanks to my good buddy Zite. This takes targeted questioning to another level. Created by Jim Smith, a teacher for Derbyshire, England, it explains a process for planning a structured approach to asking your students questions. Without going into too much detail ( Jim’s gone to the effort of making the video to explain it, after all!), it involves knowing your students’ capabilities and preparing questions geared for different levels of understanding on the topic you are teaching. Then it comes down to knowing which students to direct the questions at.
It’s a form of differentiation we as a school are becoming more familiar with but the process Jim goes through is, for me anyway, quite effective and should be of great benefit in any classroom. Initially, it would take quite a bit of preparation, but if we aren’t going to use questions effectively to target student needs, preparation is necessary. This looks to be a good process to follow. Here’s the video. Feel free to share your opinion.