Michele Filippone commented that, ‘The greatest attribute of questioning is that it stimulates thinking in the classroom.’
Classroom teachers spend a large percentage of time in the questioning–response mode, with research indicating approximately 40% of classroom time is spent in this mode. In many classrooms the questioning-response modes follows the IRE pattern: initiate a question, gather a response, evaluate the response.
I – Initiate
R – Respond
E – Evaluate
Consider the following two scenarios based on two geography lessons where Charlotte and Luke are teaching year 9 students the reasons why waterfalls are formed. Imagine that teachers, Charlie and Luke, have finished delivering their explanation and modelling for how waterfalls are formed and they want to check for understanding and whether students have been listening:
Charlie begins to check for understanding by asking her first question using cold calling:
“What is hydraulic action…..(wait time), Emily?”
“Hydaulic action is the sheer force of the water wearing away the land.”
“The sheer force of the water acting on the land is called…(wait time), Tom?”
“Hydraulic action, Miss.”
Charlie continues to use cold calling to check students’ understanding of the key processes and the stages of waterfall formation. She asks alternating questions to check that students are listening to their peer responses. After asking several questions she sets her students off on an independent task.
Now lets consider the next scenario from Luke’s classroom.
Luke begins to check for understanding with the same purpose as Charlie in scenario 1:
“When I ask the question, I want you to think for a short time before giving me your answer. [Pause] I want all hands up for this question and I want you to answer in a full sentence. I know you can do it! How does hydraulic action shape the landscape……Emily?”
“Hydraulic action is the sheer force of the water wearing away the land, sir.”
“A clear and correct answer, Emily.”
“Let’s all to do this one together. Where bedload in the river wears away its bed and bank this is called?”
“Abrasion” (whole class together) / (one student shouts out attrition)
“Lucy, why did you go for attrition?”
“I thought attrition involved the bedload wearing away the land.”
(Luke makes a note of this to come back to)
“Hands down for this question. The sheer force of the water wearing away the land is known as…….Sophie?
“Hydraulic action, sir.”
Over the next few minutes Luke continues using a range of different questions to check for understanding and whether students are and have been listening. Luke mixes up between hands up, hands down cold calling and uses mini whiteboards to check students have accurately remembered the sequence of formation before they begin the independent task.
In both scenarios, Charlie and Luke have used cold calling but it is not always clear if all students are listening and have understood. When Charlie asks her first question she can’t be certain all students are listening and ultimately can only ask a few students to check their understanding.
In the second scenario Luke uses a range of strategies to build and sequence his questions to both check for understanding and whether his students are listening. Using a range of hands up, hands down, choral and mini whiteboard responses, Luke can get a picture of students’ understanding. Alongside this, by using a variety of different strategies to question he can reduce the potential of students merely mimicking other students. Instead, he can check if they are listening.
Once Luke has finished using this sequence of questions he can then set them off on an independent task to explain why waterfalls form.
Ultimately, questions should stimulate thinking and when we are introducing new knowledge to students the aim is to sequence our questions so they build in complexity as we check for understanding and see whether students are still listening. When we do this there is a greater probability in demonstrating their understanding as they move from guided to independent practice.
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