Essay: Use of effective questioning to promote thinking and understanding

Evidence study 1: Use of effective questioning to promote thinking and understanding.
‘All students have a right to high cognitive development, and educators have the responsibility to provide the instruction and opportunities to make that right a reality.’ (Tienken, Goldberg and DiRocco : 2009)
Questioning is an integral part of every classroom whether teachers use it to support their teaching, to check students’ understanding, to manage behaviour or to develop a concept (Myhill and Dunkin:2005). This is what I observed in my lessons observations and during my teaching sessions and was astonished to see the diversity and impact of questioning on the students. Questioning is surely one of the most common strategy in the classrooms as Steven (1912) mentioned that an average of 395 questions were asked by teacher every day. Later on, Levin and Long (1981) also reported an equivalent data followed by Tienken, Goldberg and DiRocco (2009) approximation that teacher ask about 18000 questions in one year by averaging about 20 questions in one lesson for five lessons in a day and timed it by 180 school days leading to the same question which should arise in reader’s mind that: are we as teachers using this strategy to its maximum potential? Reading and linking this to my observations in my subject of Science scares and challenges me but also fascinates me to look into the depth of this intervention and how to get the best out of it. I realised after few weeks of teaching that students are not exposed to good questions enough to develop their inquisitiveness and most of the questions asked are for recalling and reinforcing as evidenced by Alexander and Barnes ( in Myhill and Dunkin 2008). Having a mixed ability group of 35 students of year 9, 22% having ESL, 50% of them are passive learners rest of them are either bored of the text book knowledge or happy of their expert memorization of bookish knowledge or waiting to absorb more . On top of that, the numbers of questions asked by the students are limited and are mainly to confirm teacher’s explanation. Students are not there to think and speak of their own mind but to think and speak through teacher’s mind resulting in poor thinking skills and interaction (Alexander 1992). As a trainee teacher I can understand that the teachers are scared of losing the control of the class which again is subjective in nature. Too much control of the classroom can stop thinking and students just follow a pattern. My aim is to foster high order thinking, by using good questions as Walsh & Scattes (2005) emphasizes, ‘Questioning, thinking, understanding. These three processes interact in a dynamic fashion to advance student learning, performance and achievement.
Questions can be categorised in many different ways using different terminologies and in many different ways. According to the Pedagogy and Practice (2004), the ‘closed’ questions usually demand a clear answer and are used to recall parts of the lesson or to check that students are with the teacher whereas ‘ open’ questions lead to multiple responses and promotes thinking and discussion. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) used the term ‘Productive’ to describe open questions and ‘Reproductive’ for closed questions. Unit 6 module opened my eyes further and fascinated me even more to start looking to use the technique effectively and purposefully. I was trying to use open questions in my lessons as and when required instantly or I was using the open question to start my lessons but never thought of planning a series of questions beforehand which took me to Socratic method of questioning and Bloom’s Taxonomy (Tienken, Goldberg and DiRocco:2009). Looking to implement these strategies in my lesson, discussion with other science teachers revealed the unfamiliarity with Socratic Method though Bloom’s taxonomy was considered more scientific and easy to use in the discipline of science.
Using Socratic Method of questioning, I planned my questions on the topic of ‘Terminal velocity’. To me Socratic Method is like peeling an onion or like a big sphere and when we start from the outer orbit and keep moving towards the center in circles. Each layer has got a concept leading to further question thus promoting inquiry. I also realised that by using open questions at the beginning of the lesson not only sets up a scene for the discussion but also start a train of thoughts where answer of the first question generates another question and the process goes on. The better the question is, the better the quality of thinking is. ‘The aim of pedagogic questions, as Socrates demonstrated, is to motivate, sustain and direct the thought-processes of the pupil’ (Wood,1998). The key is to stay at each question to give enough time to the students to explore the idea in order to build on their existing knowledge.
I introduced the idea of Socratic Method of discussion to the students to give them the responsibility of their own learning and to make them understand the importance of thinking and reflecting in the process of learning. I introduced my few rules:
1. Everyone has to take part in the discussion.
2. After every question there will be a wait-time for a minute to think.
3. Sometimes I will ask to think-pair-share strategy, which also helped me to do assessment for learning.
4. After getting a response, I asked the students to raise their hands if they agree. Van Zee & Minstrell(1997) named this strategy as Reflective toss. This again is indicative of the students’learning.
I designed the questions on the topic of Terminal Velocity (Appendix 1) and started my discussion with an open question. The students had the basic knowledge of forces, types of forces and how they act on an object. My opening question was ‘How do you describe the motion of a free falling object or a sky diver from the sky’? It was an interesting topic for grade 9 boys and they engaged into the topic straight away. They were not afraid of contributing as they knew that this is a discussion class and it is important for them to contribute with the understanding that the teacher is not there to check student’s knowledge (Dillon 1998) or students are not guessing what’s in teacher’s head. I could see the shift from guessing the right answer to figuring out the right concept with each other’s responses and their previous knowledge. I got a very positive feedback from my colleague who was there to record students’ responses and engagement. Drawing the class inward to the middle of a big sphere also gave me an opportunity to address misconceptions and confidence of making the foundation stronger as you go deeper and deeper. Wait-time helped them to think formulate their answer which in turn increases students ‘output (Gage and Berliner,1998) whilst think-pair-share supported their thinking by sharing with each other which boosted their confidence and helped everyone to be a part of the loop. Students with learning difficulties and students with weak English felt important and useful. I really enjoyed seeing my students thinking, engaging, participating and contributing to the whole discussion actively. Variety of questions also supported me in differentiation. Reflecting back I thought of few limitations and potential problems with this technique which I will discuss in my analysis and strategies for further improvement section.
The other method I used for Questioning was Bloom’s Taxonomy which I am not going into the detail because of short space, but the reason I tried out was to compare Bloom’s Taxonomy with Socratic method in Science. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical system of questioning designed by Benjamin Bloom in 1950 and revised by Pohl in 2000. It involves different levels of questioning starting from easy to complex addressing metacognitive skills and leading to higher level of thinking. I am including questions based on Bloom’s Taxonomy in appendix and will discuss the comparison in my analysis.

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