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Expert Questioning

02 December 2013

The greatest impact on a child’s learning in school is their teacher.

 This is proven beyond doubt and, of course, comes as no surprise. The majority of interaction between teacher and student is verbal as the teacher questions the student, thereby encouraging them to extend their thinking on the matter at hand. It would be fair to say therefore that skillful questioning is perhaps the most important attribute a teacher can possess.

Some key aspects of questioning are:

  • Developing higher order thinking
  • Wait time
  • Reflection
  • Extension

Higher order thinking extends beyond knowledge and comprehension, with the key aspect often based around the stem of the question. For example, a history lesson would not ask, “when did the second world war start?”, but would ask, “why did the second world war start when it did?”

Research on wait time has identified that the average length of time provided for a student to answer a question is an astonishingly low figure of around 0.8 seconds. This is too short a time for many students to understand the question and develop a considered answer. The wait time we seek for good questioning is actually around 3-5 seconds.

Traditional questioning often focuses on I-R-E: Initiation, Response, Evaluation. This is a one-to-one process with the teacher which does not always permit others to participate. A far better approach is “bouncing”. When a student gives an answer, rather than the teacher evaluating that response, the teacher will turn to a different student and say, “what did you think of that answer?”, or perhaps, “how can you improve that answer?”

Extending questioning will often involve asking students to lead on the next aspect of learning. “What questions should we ask next so we can learn more about this topic?”. Students will almost invariably seek challenge and extension instinctively, and their questions inspire interest and enthusiasm from all those around them.

A focus on all the above is a major aspect of professional development for our teachers and an area we all work on consistently. Expert questioning is a key part of enhancing learning for every student.