Friday Focus!

October 9, 2015

The most basic way teachers have to stimulate interactive thinking and learning in the classroom is through the use of questions. (Rice & Taylor, 2000)

As a classroom teacher, I often reminded myself that my lessons should be effective, efficient, and relevant. By incorporating focused questioning techniques, teachers can help to ensure effectiveness, efficiency, and relevancy. At Almadina, I have enjoyed observing various questioning strategies employed by our competent teaching staff. Too often, however, questioning becomes an overlooked component of the lesson.

Obviously, through questioning, we check for individual and whole-group understanding (Rice & Taylor, 2000). Questioning indi­vidual students is most effective; questioning the whole group is most efficient. At times, it is appropriate to opt for efficiency. When so doing, you might consider using signal responses (teaching students to “show” the answer by a predetermined signal). Questioning individual students is more common and therefore requires greater teacher attention. In questioning, all students should believe that they are as likely to be called on as any other student. In questioning individual students, I find it more effective to utilize an “ask-pause-call” method as opposed to a “call-ask-wait” technique. In the first case, the teacher phrases a question, giving all students time to formulate a potential response. Then, she calls on a random student to provide an answer. Example: “I’m going to ask you a ques­tion, and I want everyone to think of an answer. From what you read in our text, what were some causes of the Civil War?”

When calling on an individual for a response, allow ample wait time. Research suggests we should wait 3–5 seconds after asking the question before calling on any individual student (Rice & Taylor, 2000). We should then allow at least 5 seconds for a response and another 3–5 seconds after obtaining a response before reacting. If, after waiting, the student initially does not provide an answer, you might influence a response by offering a clue and restating the ques­tion. If, after this, the student still had no answer, I would often reply, “That’s okay, Ali, but pay attention, because I’m coming back to you.” Then, I might call on another student to provide the correct answer. Once I received the correct answer, I would return to the original student, getting him to verbalize the correct answer.

On the other hand, by employing a “call-ask-wait” technique (e.g., “Ali, what is an Integer?”), the resulting effect is that the anxiety level is raised for one student while everyone else is off the hook and not accountable for responding or even attending (Rice & Taylor, 2000). As a teacher, I often found myself reluctant to call on those struggling students who I feared would not be able to respond cor­rectly. By employing an ask-pause-call method of questioning, allow­ing ample wait time, providing additional clues, and—ulti­mately—coming back to students who don’t initially know the correct answer, I felt that I was able to engage all learners more effectively.

I am pleased, therefore, to note that teachers at Almadina are skilled in questioning techniques and avoid impulsive patterns of checking for individual and whole-group understanding. Josef Albers stated with wisdom Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers. Thank you for taking the time to reflect on your daily questioning techniques. More importantly, thank you for Teaching with Passion each day!

Have a great long weekend!

Jamal