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Questioning

What’s in a question, you ask? Everything. It is a way of evoking stimulating response or stultifying inquiry.  It is, in essence, the very core of teaching.
John Dewey (1933)

The art of questioning is arguably one of the most important skills for tutors to develop; when employed thoughtfully, questions can become an effective teaching strategy. A timely, well-phrased question can stimulate and deepen thinking, enable you to assess students’ progress, check on your clarity, motivate students, maintain control, or emphasise key points. Different kinds of questions ask your students to display different kinds of knowledge.

But good questioning is not always something that comes naturally. The ability to develop adequate or even excellent questioning skills can be learned if some attention and practice is given to it, and this section is dedicated to helping you do so by devising the appropriate questions which will elicit responses consistent with your teaching goals and developing your interpersonal skills to maximize student responses.

The section has been further broken down into 3 components of successful questioning – these include Questioning technique; Silence and Wait time; and Building confidence.

Questioning Technique

Questioning is one of the most important dimensions of learning and teaching. It gives tutors the chance to find out what students know and understand, and it allows students to seek clarification and help. It also challenges students to think about issues and may even unsettle them and encourages them to think about issues in new and different ways.

It is important to understand the different types of question so that you select the best question for your purposes. One dichotomy is the closed versus open question types. Closed questions require only a yes/no response so can be useful in eliciting a quick response or in warming up the group. However students can easily opt out of answering closed questions. Open questions require students to give an explanation for their answer and to expand on their response. When asked directly by name, open questions are the most effective way of generating discussion.

Another way of understanding question types is in terms of lower versus higher order questions. Lower order questions are usually ‘what’ questions. They typically test the knowledge students have about definitions or meanings. Higher order questions tend to be ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions which encourage students to think more deeply about a concept or the reasons for an answer. Your tutorials should include both types of questions, with an emphasis on higher order questions which challenge your students and make them think.

Some tutors plan key questions ahead of time. You may do this by writing down questions on a running sheet for the tutorial. These will act as prompts to guide your questioning.

Ensure that you allow enough time for students to ask their own questions of you, and each other. Often tutors ask ‘do you have any questions?’ which may not elicit much response. One strategy is to give students in small groups 1 minute to formulate 1 or 2 questions about the topic.

See:

And another good example illustrating lower and higher order questioning is seen in another:

Here are a whole range of videos on questioning in tutorials:

Silence and Wait Time

Wait time is the space of time you allow between asking a question and receiving a response. The importance of wait time is often overlooked by tutors, particularly when they have limited tutorial time and lots of material to cover.

Some research indicates that as little as ‘3 seconds’ can increase response rate from students and increase the quality of response given. With more wait time, students are often better able to offer you a more considered response.

So while rhetorical questions can be an effective tool, avoid the trap of answering your own question, better to wait, restate, then redirect to another student before coming in and answering.

Building Confidence

Encouragement plays a key role in questioning. Students need to be encouraged to answer questions and to ask questions themselves. Encouragement may come in many forms. You may give verbal encouragement: "Good answer", "Yes, exactly – well done", or encourage through body language such as nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, or using hand gestures to encourage students to pursue their answer.

Another way to encourage students is to directly build upon their response, for example, ‘Let’s pursue Susan’s thoughts’, or, link back to an earlier comment or response, ‘As Li said earlier…’

When you do need to correct, ensure you do so with sensitivity, e.g. ‘That’s a common mistake’, ‘This is easy to confuse…’ or, ‘I can see why you might argue that…’. Where possible, give students the chance to correct their own mistakes before passing the question to others.

The following are some video and audio resources that illustrate building confidence in the classroom: