Using effective questioning to promote pupil progress – based on a study of Making Every Lesson Count by Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison

A CPD/Action Research project by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

Focus

After reading Making Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby I started to think about the key sections of the book about Challenge, Explanation, Modelling, Practice, Feedback, Questioning and Embedding ethos. I decided that in order to develop my own teaching I would focus on Questioning and how this could improve my teaching and support pupil progress.

‘Good questioning is ubiquitous and fluid. It occurs in different forms during each part of a teaching and learning cycle.’

‘How many teachers ever stop to consider why they are asking a question and what they are hoping to achieve by asking it?’

As we have proposed, questions should probe student understanding and make them think. A simple way of developing our questioning to support this is by avoiding isolated questions. You should always aim to ask at least one follow-up question to a student response.’

These key quotes from the book formed the foundation for my research and planning

Background

What does effective questioning look like?

Effective questioning is a key tool in Assessment for Learning strategies and should be planned in a way which is targeted at all learners to accept a range of responses.

Why is Effective Questioning Important?

Effective questioning is a key aspect in the teaching and learning process, as the kinds of questions we ask determine the level of thinking we develop. Lessons that incorporate questions are more effective in raising attainment than lessons which do not. Good questioning requires time for pupils to think and respond and the more learners are actively engaged in learning, the less chance there is for them to switch off.

Asking well-structured/thought-out questions has a number of positive benefits within the classroom including:

• Directing students’ thinking in a particular way

• Encouraging learners to think and actively construct their own schemas

 • Structuring or guiding the learning of a task

• Allowing teachers to assess the learning of their students both in terms of what they bring to the lesson and what they are taking from the lesson

• Identifying gaps and/or misconceptions in students’ learning

• Helps students clarify their understanding of a topic

• Motivating students’ interest and engagement in a topic

• Providing opportunities for student learning through discussion

Actions

In order to undertake the use of a range of questioning techniques to develop pupil progress I started off the task by researching questioning strategies and their impact.

There are two main types of questioning;

Closed questions are useful in checking pupils’ memory and recall of facts. Typically there is only one ‘right‘ answer e.g. Which method is used in making an apple crumble? What is yeast used for in the bread making process? What consistency should a meringue mix have?  

However, closed questions can invite a game of ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’.  Wrong answers risk humiliation in a public arena and can create ‘performance anxiety’ which reduces the willingness of some pupils to contribute ideas.

Open questions have more than one answer and typically promote higher order thinking skills. When well designed, they enrich the learning experience by encouraging links to be made by the learner from previous understanding to the current situation. They can also enable teachers to check pupils’ knowledge and understanding, to assess learners’ ability to apply acquired knowledge and generalise it into new contexts, boosting problem solving skills and developing creativity e.g. What do you remember about bread making? What do you think will happen after the bread has proved and why?

Clearly there is a place for closed questions in teaching but how do you plan for effective open questions?

There are a wide range of ideas, tools and strategies currently available on teaching sites.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy There is a hierarchy of types of learning in the classroom, with the most in depth at the top, therefore questions can be planned to develop deeper learning:

Remember: Who?, what?, when?, where? how?

Understand: Can you explain…?

Apply: How is …. an example of…?, How is …. related to…?

Analayze: What are the parts of …?, What are the key features of ….? Can you classify … according to…?

Evaluate: What can you infer from…..?, What ideas can you to ….?, How would you design ….?, Do you agree that….?

Create: How could you design/create a new way to ….?

I found the diagram and prompts above the most effective way to planning higher order thinking questions for my pupils.

Outcomes

There are many theories and ideas on questioning, below are my top three techniques used to improve pupil progress

Number 1

Plan questions in advance, tailored to each member of the group, using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Use the GCSE specification and exam papers to plan questions for all ability groups.  Allow the class to pick apart another pupil’s response and then build on it until it is perfect.

Pose an exam question to the class. Mind map out ideas on paper or on the board and then allow the class to use them to structure their own response.

Number 2

Get the pupils to plan their own higher level questions based on Blooms.

(There are a number of tools with a variety of question stems to help do this online)

Then either their peers can answer or they can ask the teacher. Take each response and analyse using the mark scheme.

Number 3

Pose the question scan the room, and allow 20 seconds take up time.

As time goes on you, you can increase the take up time.

Impact

  • When planned and consistently implemented questioning is key to pupil progress.
  • Using the knowledge gained from being an examiner for the board really helps when planning questions to push pupils’ progress.

Conclusion

Effective questioning is a key aspect of the teaching and learning process. How questions are presented or fielded by teachers sets the learning climate and enables pupils’ thinking to be revised, affirmed and extended in a cost effective way which also supports positive relationships.

Next Steps

  • Further develop my questioning techniques and their effectiveness through learning walks and lesson observations.
  • Use social media to keep in touch with current methods of questioning.
  • Develop questioning with the faculty, using peer lesson observations and learning walks to support.

Sources/References:

Making every lesson count- Shaun Allison and Andy Thereby

by Ged Cast
blog by Tom Sherrington @teacherhead

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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