Instead of directly giving information to students, teachers can involve students actively in learning through carefully sequenced questions, which encourage students to draw on current cues and past experiences to think through a problem for themselves.
The types of questions asked and the kinds of responses students have to generate can have very different effects on students’ learning. Research suggests that most of the questions teachers ask are low-level and do not require students to use higher order thinking, such as analysing, evaluating or critiquing.
Questions that engage students in complex thinking can increase students’ curiosity, develop their problem-solving skills, improve their engagement and strengthen their ability to persevere.
Well-crafted questions also help students to make connections between ideas, and to develop personal meaning and associations with previously learned content. When students are challenged to explain, listen and problem solve, they develop important thinking skills, strategies for working with content, and networks of ideas. Effective questioning helps students discover, evaluate and apply content, and leads to better long-term recall.
There is a considerable research-base on the importance of questioning in teaching. The evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, shows that it is the quality and nature of questions that are the most important for improving student learning.
Effective teachers ask some direct and specific questions which help them to monitor students’ progress and understanding. However, they spend a significant proportion of time asking higher-order questions that encourage students to think (and provide students with time to think), and to give lengthy answers, including explanations and justifications.
In responding to questions, teachers should avoid designating a student as right or wrong, which effectively closes the dialogue. Instead effective teachers ask follow-up questions to probe and clarify a student’s thinking. Well-designed questions elicit evidence of students’ current understandings (and misunderstandings), and scaffold students’ thinking by helping students make connections between their existing knowledge and the new problems of learning.
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