In our educational journey we constantly come across fellow educators who share great ideas. Sometimes, these ideas/ strategies are so obvious, simple and great that you immediately know you will start using it and implementing it in your teaching style from that day onwards. I had one of these moments a few years ago when I was teaching at Berlin Brandenburg International School and I attended a whole school PD day on engaging students, differentiation and questioning in class.
Before starting on the topic of questioning strategies I would like to focus on getting students engaged and "tuned in". I try to have my students enter a gym and let them move, warm-up before I give further instructions. In the PYP we use the term provocation to indicate a way to get our students engaged on our topic and ready for the learning that we want to take place. This is not always possible but depending on the unit I teach I use skipping ropes, basic ball skill exercise, pre-assessment and self regulated tag games. I also use ICT like video screens (music video's), iPads and QR codes as well as Socrative as a pre-assessment tool etc to get students engaged and ready for learning.
Now that we are passed the point of getting tuned in, we can look at questioning strategies. The main issue with teachers asking questions is that often our questions are geared towards the answer we would like to hear, like questions with a specific outcome or yes/no answers. In my opinion our questioning should be focused towards engaging students into thinking, collaborating and sharing in a creative/ open-minded manner. As an IB PYP teacher, I believe in Inquiry based questioning, helping students to develop their own ideas and opinions. If you are new to inquiry based learning, please check out this site.
"Last hand up"
I therefore tell my students that I am not interested in the first hand up, but in all hands up, or last hand up. Learning can never become a competition but I know that if I do not actively do something different, that this is what will happen in my classes. The keen/ fast student raising his/her hand asking repeatedly for a chance to share his thoughts/answer (easy to picture right!?). Too often we allow only a few seconds for students to think and respond after we asked our question. The quick student gets a chance, answers correctly and the teacher is happy! If the 1st student did not get it, we move to the next until we get the answer we are looking for. My question is; "what did the rest do and what learning took place in their heads?" Maybe they had a great idea but simply did not get the chance because english is their 2nd/3rd language, they are shy etc etc. If his happens regularly, it is not strange that students give up, avoid and stop trying. So, I wait for all students to raise their hands and encourage them to think and come up with something. I address students individually and we openly discuss the process of thinking and creating ideas. I do not hint to get "my answer"! I like to get surprised and hear their view on the topic. As a result, my students are all involved, they know my take on this and so; I do not have an answer competition factor in class, I also do not have an atmosphere of answering to show off/ please the teacher, and my students know I am interested in all of them and their ideas. Instead I have classes where my students are engaged and learning, a class where students are happy to share information and are not afraid to try, answer and/or raise their hands. We do not focus on right or wrong but on sharing ideas. Lastly I want to take away the fear for failure among my students and so far I am happy with the process. It takes effort, belief, commitment and time to create, develop and maintain this learning atmosphere and in an International School setting with high turn over, it needs constant attention.
For me this method works and so I accept that it sometimes takes a bit more time but teaching is not about getting your lesson planning through on time, it is about providing authentic learning experiences for all your students.
I look forward sharing with you on this topic.