The Dynamics of Questioning….agile, responsive, nimble, purposeful.

Increasingly I find that it’s important and useful to explore teaching techniques through the twin-tracks of a) defining specific techniques so they are deployed with precision and b) combining different techniques flexibly and responsively across phases of a lesson. As we’ve found in walkthrus, there are lots of subtle aspects of questioning that can be codified, worked on and deployed at key moments.

Once you have a strong sense of the process and purpose for each technique, you can be very intentional in using the right technique at the right time. Once you’ve developed a strong toolbox you can select the tools you need to maximise your sense of what is going on in students’ heads across the class and to maximise students’ participation in thinking, rehearsing and sharing ideas.

I think it’s useful to see Checking for Understanding as a pivotal concept because that’s the key to your wider decision making: to move on or re-teach; to use another example or go over the previous one again… etc. With that in mind, then depending on what you want from your students, you have a range of options to go to.

It’s really powerful if your students have a clear understanding of the routines for each option so you can switch between them with relative ease. Show-me boards… then a bout of think, pair, share and.. cold calling for each time you choose who to respond. These three options are probably core; they all have a different emphasis and purpose and as you move between them, you create a nice energy and dynamic in the lesson, varying pace and mode of engagement. At various points, everyone is thinking and listening (cold call); everyone is talking (pair share) and everyone is now sharing their individual answer (show-me boards).

There are other choices too. Sometimes, it helps to mix up your cold call selections with a randomising technique (low key and subtle, no big drama), to make sure you’re not allowing yourself to ignore students or focus on too few of them. Sometimes, you want students to volunteer ideas so some hands up is a useful strategic choice, spinning off a default of cold calling, making sure everyone is always thinking and ready to answer.

And then, within cold calling, when you pitch a question there are options for the type of question you are asking. You might want to build confidence and increase depth with a quick re-working of an initial answer – say it again better; you might want to get into the thought process behind the answer – some process questions like ‘what was your method?’; or you might want to get into some more detailed exploratory probing – is it always true? ; why is that answer better than this answer?, which factor is the most significant?

In this context, techniques as tools in the toolbox support teachers to be nimble, flexible, adaptive, responsive, dynamic, agile… Lessons have a purposeful energy with changes of mood, pace, rhythm and flow as the teacher works the room, getting into the corners, making decisions at every moment about where to go next. It’s where the impression of teaching as an art comes in – but it’s not some giant mystery; it’s all intentional, deliberate, strategic.

In CPD terms, it’s really powerful to explore techniques one by one but then, fairly swiftly, the agenda can move onto how techniques combine, from how to use them to when to use them.


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