Friday 1 November 2013

Questioning techniques that worked for me

I recently took part in an inset, based on a Teachmeet style of sessions.   There were 8 different sessions that were focussed on improving challenge in the classroom, particularly for the most able in each class.  I took on questioning as I had been told previously in a lesson observation that I scaffold my questions well.  I nodded my head and acted like that was my intention.  Like any teacher, all I wanted was to just get more out of the students and enhance the level and quality of discussion.

I thought long and hard about what I would want as a teacher at my school coming to my session, I researched blogs, journals and internet articles on the subject and put together lots of techniques that teachers had used successfully in their lesson. The issue was that I hadn’t used any of these particular ones, like Blooms and Hinge’ and felt a bit of a phony standing up and saying how great these were when I hadn’t actively used them.  I started to speak more to other staff in the school, ask them about what they do and how they challenge the most able.  The conversations I had were really insightful and gave me a lot of good information. A lot said they don’t use techniques per se but open ended, higher order questions, getting students to explain their answers, reflect on what others have said and let the discussion flow, asking meaningful questions when they were needed. Again, I thought if I stand up there and say this, it doesn’t really give staff something concrete that they can take away.

One teacher talked about the ‘ABC’ technique. This is where you pose a question to the class, select a student to respond,then ask other students in the class, whether they agree, buildupon or challenge the response.  I thought this sounded a great idea and something similar to the basketball technique (student led discussion which moves around the classroom with little or no input from the teacher – you can actually use a basketball whilst doing this but my advice is not to do it in an ICT room).  I tried it in my classes and found it workedwell. I made sure students were informed of the technique first before carrying it in.  also adapted the technique to involve all students in the discussion, for example, students had to listen to a person’s answer and ensure they noted down something for each ABC point.  This encouraged students toconsider all points and put together a well-reasoned argument. It actually started as something of a ‘connection’ or ‘starter’ and ended up being something that could structure a whole lesson. We practiced the technique in a discussion format and then students had a different question and had to build an answer around the technique in written prose considering all sides of the argument.  

The technique went down well in the inset. There were a few issues with subjects that are more fact based and teachers were asking how it could fit in there. My response was that this technique is not used for surface level knowledge, stuff students need to know, but when they need to analyse and evaluate. I use it at the end of topics in GCSE PE for example, we had just finished role models, sponsorship and the media and I posed the question, ‘is Cristiano Ronaldo a positive influence on young people?’ Students made notes under each section and then practiced their extended writing, including for and against arguments, including key words and linking together the three topics and how all can have a positive and negative affect.  

Another technique I introduced in the inset was something I named ‘Closing the gap’.  The technique encourages students to analyse their own answers in comparison to an exemplar and plan their own route for improvement and progression.  It is not a questioning technique that can be used in discussion, more a technique for how students can improve how they answer exam questions.  I am sure we all do something similar, this is just a technique I have found useful and it gives the students more autonomy over their learning.  Students are given an exam question.  The students will then write a response to the question. Instead of taking it in and marking it, you give students a perfect answer with highlighted key words or key phrases.  The students then analyse their answer with the one on the board and mark their own work. Afterwards, students then write WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) on marks they have achieved, key words included/missing and gaps in their 
knowledge and understanding.  The idea is that when you come to mark the book you are able to review targets and track whether students are making improvements on their exam writing.  This technique can also be done as peer evaluation or as a group activity.  It also enables students to know where they are in relation to the top grades and track their own progress.

It was my first inset and I really enjoyed it. I don’t think there is too much I would have done differently apart from maybe going to speak to more teachers about techniques that they have used which are effective in their classrooms, particularly maths.  I am far from an expert in questioning and these are only techniques that have worked for me in my lessons.  I hope this blog has given you some ideas or at the very least made you reflect on the questioning strategies used in your lessons.

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