How Important is Appropriate Questioning and Assessment For Learning to deliver Outstanding” Lessons?

How Important is Appropriate Questioning and Assessment For Learning to deliver Outstanding” Lessons?

As a teacher trainer and an aspiring OfSTED inspector the concept of “Appropriate Questioning” in assessment for learning is an aspect of pedagogy that I have regular discussions on. This is especially so when debating the link between successful questioning and outstanding lessons.
Appropriate questioning is paramount in successful assessment and more importantly effective questioning is a powerful tool for learning. As well as planning for appropriate open ended questions throughout the starter, main and plenary in my lessons, I encourage learners in my classroom to come up with their own ideas and to think aloud. Learners need to be nurtured to explain their reasons for their answers and express a deeper level of understanding. Finally learners need the opportunity to ask their own questions and not limit apprehension. I do this by encouraging that “It is okay” to give a “wrong” answer in the lesson.

The questioning requirements highlighted are important because they all concern the classroom climate for learning. Establishing the right climate and culture is a crucial factor in effective questioning, an environment where pupils feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and asking questions needs to be created. Learners will be more inclined to ask questions if there is a supportive atmosphere in the classroom and the classroom teacher can establish this and a positive climate by “Promoting a risk-taking culture” and make errors as “part of the learning experience”. In the case of a learner answering question incorrectly in my lessons, particular my bottom set year 7 class. I survey the class and ask, “who agrees”, “who disagrees” and “who is unsure”. After stating the right answer I follow up with the statement that “it is ok to be unsure or to get a questions wrong, as we can learn from it” and go though the correct method of getting the correct answer.

questions and answers

questions and answers

I have found that the use of small whiteboards and pens in conjunction with effective questioning can allow the passive learner to express themselves and help me as the classroom teacher to identify where pupils are currently in their learning. A wave of answers on the whiteboards allows me to get a quick insight in the class’s comprehension of a concept and inform planning for future learning. A quick analysis of responses can establish further probing of questions to develop a deeper and broader understanding for those learners who I think have understood the concept and will be able to deepen their subject knowledge. This strategy has been highly successful in my low ability groups across my key stage 3 classes. For example it has nurtured various learners in my bottom set year 7 class at my A placement to have the confidence to attempt to answer questions that I address to the class. The risk of answering a question wrong and being exposed to their peers is limited and the low ability learners in question have developed their classroom interaction skills, increased motivation and it has enabled me to assess their learning and plan accordingly.

It is not necessarily about asking more questions, research shows that teachers ask a lot of questions in the course of a day, “approximately one every 72 seconds, on average”. This is supported in a trainee’s mathematics lesson I observed recently. The observation focused on appropriate questioning and number of questions asked and showed that the teacher in question asked 52 questions in the lesson, working out to be 1 question every 60 seconds. However, one significant aspect that I noted was that the learners were not given the appropriate “thinking time” and a large percentage of the questions were answered by the teacher. The results of the observation were very interesting and after reflection helped even myself to adjust my teaching style to first ask the right questions and to allow the appropriate time after asking a question for pupils to think, reflect and express.

questions and answers

questions and answers

Appropriate questions reinforce the focus for learning and draw out pupils’ understanding of the learning, this in turn helps to progress the learner. Different types of questions serve different purposes. Some seek facts only and others encourage and extend learners’ understanding. In the case that recall is required closed questions are appropriate, however, when you want to know what they understand, more open-ended questions need to be planned for. Mathematics is renound for its closed style questions, and I have tried to counteract this stereotype, by always responding to answer with a “Why do you think…” , “Could you tell me more about…” or “does anyone want to elaborate further”. Effective questioning also concerns how well we deal with responses from pupils. I have found that using wrong answers to develop understanding and always listening fully to the pupils’ response in its entirety regardless of correctness, and not overlooking other answers and responses normally reveals more about the learner’s level of understanding. For example one strategy that I have used in my lessons is using a ‘wrong’ answer to turn it into a springboard for improved understanding. The learner is informed in such a way that I do not actually say ‘No that’s wrong, I will encourage them on with a positive comment and at the same time steer the pupil towards a better or correct response.

If you are a Maths teacher than Becoming an Outstanding Mathematics Teacher
is a great book to develop your Mathematics pedagogy. However, as you can see appropriate questioning is a subject that can be discussed in great detail and is very significant when planning for good/outstanding lessons. In this article I have started to discuss the tip of the ice berg and would like to hear your comments and thoughts on the subject. Please tweet @magicalmaths to express your views.

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