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Questions can be a powerful tool for the teacher and questioning techniques can elicit valuable information. And, both questions and questioning can be challenging to do well: to borrow an old phrase about computers, “garbage in, garbage out.” The following analyses of questions and recommendations on techniques are provided as guidelines for both oral discourse and written assessments.
Knowledge – recall specific information; avoid
using solely knowledge questions.
Comprehension – translate or interpret information, putting it in one’s own words.
Application – apply information to a novel situation.
Analysis – examine elements of a whole, relationships among parts, or operating principles.
Synthesis – organize information for a new solution or product.
Evaluation – make judgements using information, with identification of the bases for them.
Closed questions have but a single correct answer;
use them sparingly to assess whether students have achieved understanding
of specific content or directions.
Convergent questions have a few correct answers; use them to elicit summaries or bring closure to a discussion.
Divergent questions allow for many answers to be correct; use them to open a discussion or elicit students’ current understanding of a topic.
Open questions allow for almost all answers to be acceptable; use them as for divergent questions.
view divergent clip - view divergent transcript
Ambiguous questions do not make clear what kind of
response or information is wanted. Even divergent and open questions
should clarify the subject to be addressed and provide guidance for
how to respond.
Planning questions requires evaluation of the information desired in the response, the type of thinking required, and the possible answers. Plan questions in advance so that you can return to them with a fresh view later; you’ll be amazed how many new/”wrong” answers show up.
Do not rephrase or add to a question once it has been asked. This interrupts students’ thinking. And, do not use yes/no phrasing: can you…, do you…, will you…, could you…
Extending probes are questions that ask the student
to say more. They can be as simple as: “can you add to that?”
“And then what?” “Please go on.”
Clarifying probes ask the student to explain more clearly or to go beyond a simple answer. “Would you rephrase, please?” “What would be an example?” “What do you mean by (x)?”
Justifying probes ask the student to think critically, to identify evidence, assumptions, or reasoning. “What evidence suggests that?” “How did you come to that answer?”
Redirecting probes ask other students to respond to the same question or a response from another student. “What do you think about it?” “What makes you agree or disagree with (y)?
Although it is difficult to do, research has shown that using silence
in verbal interactions with students encourages longer and higher quality
responses. Students must have some time to consider questions beyond
the knowledge level. The length of wait time, as it is called in the
literature, is short, three to five seconds (but seems long while you’re
Silence 1: Wait before identifying a student to respond after you have asked a question.
Silence 2: Wait again after identifying a student to respond.
Silence 3: Wait after a student appears to have finished responding. This is the most difficult, but will often result in the student adding to, clarifying, or justifying his/her response.
view silence clip - view silence transcript
Traditional verbal (“right,” “good”)
and nonverbal (e.g., smiles, nodding) reinforcements are appropriate
when students are beginning with new content in order to encourage effort.
But using these all of the time makes the students too dependent on
the teacher’s assessment.
Recognizing thinking is more appropriate when questions require students to do more than recall or to consider a divergent/open question. “That was a comprehensive response.” You provided two sources of evidence.” “The sequence of reasoning is clear.” Such reinforcements can prompt students to pay closer attention to their own thinking.
Using student answers at a later time in the discussion or lesson is a very powerful type of reinforcement, especially if you can identify the student by name. Incorporate the student’s response or expand on it in your own comments or summary. Difficult to do, but no one has ever said that the teacher can’t take notes during class.
The way a teacher indicates who is to respond is called eliciting and
has to do with the sequence of the question and the identification of
the student. In the following, T stands for teacher, Q for question,
S for student, R for response, N for name, and P for pause (silence
or “wait time”).
TQ – SR (or multiple SR): Teacher asks question, anyone responds at will or many students respond at once. This sequence can lead to the same students repeatedly responding and/or confusion when several people are talking at once.
N – TQ – SR: How would you like to be on the hot seat? This also lets other students “off the hook” and they may not bother to listen to the question and/or think about a response.
TQ – P – N – P – SR: This is the preferred sequence as it avoids the problems of the first two sequences. If your students are not raising their hands and calling out, just ask them to do so with a simple explanation.
view eliciting clip - view eliciting transcript
Getting responses: If students are not responding or only a few do so, try having pairs or trios discuss responses to questions for 30 seconds or so first. You must explain what you are doing and establish a clear stop signal to end group discussion if you do this: “That’s a challenging question. Take 30 seconds to discuss it with the person next to you.” Look at your watch in an obvious way and at 30 seconds, say “stop” or “time.” Or, depending on how animated (or minimal) the discussion is, provide more or less time; lulls tend to be good indicators.
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