There are many strategies out there that an educator can use to empower learners. Possibly one of the most powerful is questioning techniques. They comprise the core of any meaningful learning experience and are at the heart of virtually every type of pedagogical approach. While the value of great questions is understood, it is also vital to examine the types that are being used regularly in the classroom. Take the following observation pulled from research by Tofade, Elsner, and Haines (2013):
Well-crafted questions lead to new insights, generate discussion, and promote the comprehensive exploration of subject matter. Poorly constructed questions can stifle learning by creating confusion, intimidating students, and limiting creative thinking. Teachers most often ask lower-order, convergent questions that rely on students’ factual recall of prior knowledge rather than asking higher-order, divergent questions that promote deep thinking, requiring students to analyze and evaluate concepts.
The above synopsis provides some food for thought. Begin by looking at the question stem to determine if it will elicit a one-word response. There is an opportunity to scaffold if it begins with who, what, where, or when. From here, there are numerous opportunities to not only bump up the level of thinking but also foster discourse and build in relevant applications. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I shared four types of questions that can do just that while setting the stage for deeper learning. Below is a summary:
There is no better way to move students beyond stating what they know than getting them to explain their think¬ing. These types of questions naturally allow for the sharing of more information such as feelings, supporting details, attitudes, and a deeper understanding of the concepts being presented. They require learners to rationalize and reason beyond figuring out the answer by formulating a stance or opinion. Typically, there is no definitive right or wrong response.
These types of questions empower students to justify their responses through rebuttal. The teacher provides both valid and invalid statements seeking responses that are sup¬ported with some sort of evidence. The use of evidence allows students to pull from prior learning while also enabling them to venture deeper into the content.
Even if a student responds with a correct answer, this questioning technique fosters more critical thought through reasoning. All a teacher needs to do is simply ask “why?” or “how?” to have students probe their thinking a bit deeper.
Questions should lead to more questions. This technique pushes the thinking of students by compelling them to consider an opposing view.
Deep learning can be a reality, but we have to take a critical lens to the strategies that are being used. Sometimes the most practical way is to look at what is used daily. In addition to developing better questions, consider using the Rigor Relevance Framework to empower learners to then apply what they have learned in authentic ways.
Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best practice strategies for effective use of questions as a teaching tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 77(7), 155.