According to Robert Fried’s Game of School (2005), few students are authentically engaged in learning in school; most learn how to play by the rules in order to get along and get by. Most students appear to be passive observers in class sessions during which teachers are asking academic questions. How can teachers more effectively engage their students when asking questions?
In my most recent classroom visits, I have noticed teachers using a great deal of academic discussion in the classes at MSB. Discussion is a great way to assess student learning and to engage students in the material. Through quality questioning strategies, students can make connections between new information and what they already know. They can articulate what they are learning and why. While engaging in problem solving and meaning making, they can demonstrate curiosity, self-reliance, and perseverance as they interact with their teacher and one another. How can you make your questioning strategies more effective?
In most of our classrooms at MSB, the teacher is asking questions, and a few students are “shouting out” responses. In some classrooms, students raise their hands with answers. The questioning is very fast paced, with very little time for students to think about an answer. Typically, a few “star” students answer the majority of the questions.
There are a few ways to make your questioning more effective….
1) Frame Quality Questions: Formulating your questions should be your first consideration. Carefully craft your questions before the lesson to ensure the questions stimulate student thinking and learning. Here are some question starters for each D.O.K. level. This would be a good reference for you to keep by your podium or desk, as you ask students questions.
*For more information and guidance with framing your questions, please see me to borrow the book Thinking Through Quality Questioning: Deepening Student Engagement.
2) Cold Call: The goal is to engage every student in the classroom in thinking and responding. When a few students “shout out” the answers, most of the class is not demonstrating their thinking or learning. If you want to read more about cold calling, read these two blogs about it:
To manage the cold call technique for calling on students, you could use index cards with each student’s name. Shuffle the cards and use those to select your students who will respond to the question. By creating some randomness to who you call on, the students will all be engaged and you will assess all students in your class. On the index card, you can also make a note about whether or not they responded appropriately or correctly. You could give students points for their responses and make it a formative assessment.
Watch this one-minute video about the “card-o-matic” strategy to increase student participation:
If you have a smart phone, check out these two apps that are designed for teachers to use for cold call:
- stick pick: $2.99
- classcards $4.99
3) Think Time: If we expect students to give thoughtful responses, we need to give students more time for thinking. We must wait while they think about the question and formulate a response. Typically teachers don’t have silence in their classrooms, and wait time is less than one second. The classroom questioning is very fast-paced. Think about giving students the time to process the questions and their answers, so they are fully prepared to answer and feel more confident. Individuals process questions and generate responses at different rates and in different manners. Some students are internal processors who prefer to have their responses formulated perfectly before saying them aloud. Others are external processors who are inclined to talk through their answers orally. Some students need more quiet time for their processing, so teachers need to think about giving them the time they need for complex thinking. After asking a question to the class, give the students three to five seconds to process. “Stop and think” Then you can call on a student. After the student answers the question, give students three to five seconds to “Listen and Learn.” During the second wait time, students can formulate clarifying questions or piggyback on what they’ve heard. They can compare their classmate’s answer with their own. Students will need to learn from you what you expect them to do during the wait times. The extended quiet time will feel funny at first, but students will soon adjust to the think time and it will become part of your questioning routine.
If you would like posters for the expected behaviors for students during wait times, let me know. I can give those to you.
These are just a few of the factors to consider as you try to use more effective questioning in your classes. If you would like further guidance and support as you try new strategies, let me know. I would be happy to observe, model, or strategize with you.