Questioning our Questioning!

Answering Questions

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.

So, teachers, do you have good or bad Habits of Mind?? Pt 2 – Cognitive


Following on from my previous Habits of Mind post on Control Habits, one piece of feedback I received was that you would have to be a paragon of virtue to have all of these Habits of Mind functioning in your life all the time. It was also suggested that it was good for students and teachers to be aware of these Habits. My response was that I was no paragon  but it was not enough to just be aware of the Habits – that just turns them into another content area to learn and unlearn for students – but that we have to aspire to them for successful learning. No, we are not always going to succeed and sometimes we will fall into bad Habits, but Habits of Mind need to be more than a changeable weekly goal that result in us getting a HoM sticker; they are something we should strive to achieve as much as we can.

In this post we move on to the Cognitive Habits, the ones we need for deep thinking and learning to take place.

Applying past knowledge to new situations
As a learner…

          • Do you keep records of your past learning and spend time reviewing and reflecting on that learning?
          • Do you keep a journal to keep track of your learning?
          • Do you use digital bookmarking tools like Diigo or Delicious and tag articles, websites, reports under related tags so that you can link information together from both past and present?
          • Do you try to build on previous work done, looking for ways to improve on what you have done in the past but keeping successes intact?
          • Do you share your knowledge from previous years and explain how it is still relevant to what you are doing today?
          • Can you compare and contrast current and historical events and find relevance in the ideas and events of the past in your life today?
OR… Do you constantly start from scratch and waste a lot of time trying to create something new, never record anything and forget most ideas presented to you, never revise or make links between what was learnt in previous meetings, conferences, planning sessions,etc., disregard the experience and ideas of the past in an obsessive drive to change for the sake of change?
As a teacher…
  • Do you provide opportunities for students to record their learning for each day
  • Do you set up routines so that children make links between previous and current learning during the course of a lesson?
  • Do you lessons build upon past learning?
  • Dou you link concepts and key ideas from previous terms, weeks, years?
  • Do you expect your students to make links between previous and current learning
OR… do you rush through the end of lessons without giving time for students to record their learning, plan a series of disjointed lessons using worksheets that have no relationship from day to day, wait entire terms before revising skills and concepts with little chance of recall or connection and never review previous units of work and analyse successful components AND areas of improvement?

Thinking about your thinking (Metacognition)

As a learner….

          • Do you reflect on what you understand and don’t understand and make plans to discover ways to improve
          • Do you recognise when you are challenged, distracted, disenchanted and make the effort to get back on track?
          • Do you have make a concerted effort to reflect on your learning ( or lack of ), trying to identify one benefit from every learning experience you have?
          • Do you set goals and learning outcomes based on the above challenges?
          • Do you take notes as you go along and record questions, possible follow up actions, responses to what you read or listen to/view?
OR…. Do you just go through the motions during presentations, ignore/disregard what you don’t understand, randomly highlight words and phrases without reflecting on them, sit through meetings without challenging your beliefs or the beliefs of the presenters or move on to the next challenge without thinking about your level of understanding or depth of learning?

As a teacher…..

  • Have you set up routines and procedures whereby students reflect on their learning in an organised journal?
  • Do you challenge ALL students in the class to articulate their learning and misunderstandings?
  • Do your students set achieveable goals based on this reflective process?
  • Do you encourage critical thinking by setting tasks that challenge your students?
  • Does your class have collaborative discussions during which they challenge each other’s learning?
OR… do your students move hurriedly from activity to activity without pause for thought, sit silently without having thoughtful conversations with classmates, never get challenged to articulate their level of understanding or never have to use a reflective journal to document their learning?

Questioning and problem posing

As a learner…

          • Do you challenge the ideas presented to you by others and ask for evidence to justify their opinions?
          • Do you pose alternative ideas and solutions and conduct independent research to find out if they are viable?
          • Do you look for you own solutions to problems?
          • Do you dig deeper than the first level of questioning to make sure you have investigated fully?
          • Do you look for a range of resources that have a common answer?
          • Do you persist until you have found the answer?
OR… Do you accept the first idea presented as gospel, stop on the first page of a Google Search, never go beyond the first answer given to a question, lack the initiative or courage to challenge what others say or rely on others to find the answer to what you are looking for?

As a teacher…

  • Do you ask follow up questions to further challenge students to deepen their thinking?
  • Do you teach children the 5Y’s strategy that expects them to go 5 levels deep on questions they pose for research?
  • Do you encourage students to challenge your viewpoints as long as they can back their opposition up with rational thought and alternative evidence?
  • Do you present a range of data for children to analyse?
  • Do you use open ended tasks that encourage students to think about a range of possible outcomes and solutions?
  • Do you provide enough opportunities for problem solving?
OR…. Do you present as an authoritarian who has all the answers the children need, present closed questions that only have one solution, set assignments that don’t allow for independent research and topic choice, don’t allow enough time for children to work out problems before providing the answer or present only one point of view and expect children to accept it as accurate?
How much thinking goes on in your life? How much thinking goes on in your classroom? How good are your cognitive habits?

Next Post: Supple/Sensorial