Questioning

The average teacher asks an average of 400 questions a day  (Leven and Long, 1981).  I am sure that you have heard this statistic before; in the past two weeks I have heard/ seen it in an article, on Twitter, at a CPD session and, most recently, at an NQT induction day. It is often used in conjunction with Ofsted’s criteria from September 2012 which states ‘teachers use questioning and discussion to assess the effectiveness of their teaching and promote pupils’ learning,’ to achieve Outstanding. Clearly, we all know that we should think about the questions we use in the classroom and how we phrase them. This is nothing radical and is part of common sense. Yet many teachers are told that they are not asking enough high-quality questions in that endless pursuit of ‘rapid progress’ – Ofsted’s current holy grail. This post, therefore, is to encourage people to see questioning in a different light: as a method of easing workload and ticking boxes at the same time.

For me, questioning is the lazy way (as in a Jim Smith lazy way as opposed to the mortal sin way) into providing differentiation across abilities and demonstrating progress in a lesson. It is, for the most part, printer and resource free and takes very little prior preparation. It is a saviour for a teacher who was snowed under with the mulitude of ‘priorities’ given to them by SLT and completely forgot to get to a photocopier and print out individually handcrafted resources for each student that they will teach that day (because we clearly all do this, every day and every lesson). Questioning shows students that you are including them individually in the lesson, you are tailoring the lesson for each student by phrasing the question differently for each student you ask – without having to spend hours glued to Publisher.

Questioning was highlighted for me as an area of weakness early in my training year yet it has now developed into a strength that is noted on my observation forms and reports. It has genuinely improved my teaching and is the one thing that I feel I can really do as well as a ‘proper’ (i.e. not NQT or trainee) teacher whilst I fall miserably short in other areas.

So here are techniques that I have used very successfully in my classroom (many stolen from a recent NQT session and Twitter as well – sorry @kohlmand, @learningspy, @teachertoolkit and @philbeadle – think of it as publicity!).

1. Why?

Simple, effective and short. Ask this at the end of ANY statement that a student makes and you will be met with a furrowed brow and a strained answer as they think creatively on the spot: they have thought laterally and extended their answer. You have made them learn.

2. Turning a question into a statement.

This is a fantastic starter activity as it encourages students to evaluate opinions from the beginning of a lesson. Instead of ‘Why are chips unhealthy?’ ask ‘Chips are a health food.’ Do you agree or disagree? Make more able students take an opposing or contradictory view to extend them and give less able students a side that they feel is comfortable thereby allowing them to engage.

3. Give an answer and ask why it is the correct answer.

This is a great way of getting students to think about creative and learning processes. A great example that have seen is ‘Why is this a complex sentence?’ with an accompanying complex sentence. It makes students break down the concept/ idea and allows you to work out how well they have understood the topic.

4. If this is the answer, what is the question?

Jeopardy is an amazing game and students find it really hard. Get students to rate each other’s questions as well to encourage some AfL.

5. Thinking dice.

These are an amazing game to use in class to encourage students to ask each other questions. Play as a whole class – get a student to roll and ask a question of anyone they choose. The person who answers is then the next roller. In encouraging students to question, they are applying the knowledge in new ways and, again, will demonstrate learning and progress for you to assess. They are available from the Happy Puzzle Company online. Every student loves these, no matter what their age.

Teaching Resolutions

I love making resolutions. It is part of my deep and abiding passion for list making; for what else are your resolutions than the ultimate in lists? They set out your good intentions for the year and, probably after one-too many glasses of fizzy wine, make you feel inordinately better about the new year stretching ahead of you.

Having said that, I do find January an odd time to make resolutions. Ever a creature of habit, I am firmly locked into September being the start of a new year: my (first) gap year ran September to September so although I was working full time in a job without summer holidays, it began in September when I left Sixth Form and ended in the September when I left for university. My university years all finished in June, which meant that I never really left the September-September year pattern of my youth. During my second gap year I again worked full time and then ran away to South America for five months, returning to my first year of Teach First training and my PGCE in, guess what, September. I am sure that this adherence to September as the ‘real’ new year is the same as many teachers.

Despite this, I feel that the Christmas holidays provide a great time for reflection. The problems that you have with your classes will have clearly manifested themselves by this point and there has been time to experiment with routines/ solutions and work out what works…and what definitely does not. Therefore, in the spirit of reflection, I have decided to set myself some teaching resolutions as well as my personal ones (which will remain personal).

So here goes:

1. Try a new activity with at least one class once a day.

This may just be a new type of question (or some of the fab questioning resources that have had stolen from @kohlmand on Twitter), a new starter or new plenary. It may be a whole Phil Beadle-esque singing, dancing, standing on the tables lesson. But it will be new. I have found that I am already falling back on ‘old faithful’ activities. It is too early in the year to do this. I need to make sure that lessons are still engaging and somewhat unpredictable so students do still want to come to my classroom.

2. Use ICT and homework to meaningfully enhance learning.

I have blogged about this topic before and want to keep developing the changes that I have made. In the new year our school is getting a brilliant new VLE from FROG. It looks AMAZING but I want to be able to utilise its full potential in my lessons and for homework to carry on learning once students have left the classroom

3. To work out a really effective way of teaching History to students with very low motivation/ engagement with History. 

I have made some excellent progress with students who fit this bill over the past year and a half but I feel that I am not catering for the needs of these students in the way that I have done for other students. I am determined that this year will be the year that I have the ‘eureka’ moment that I have had with other classes. At the moment I am thinking of changing the curriculum slightly as another level of differentiation: the same skills will be taught but topics will be slightly different to hopefully engage the students more. Having said that, this is just an idea: any suggestions would be welcome on @annebradsaw88 on Twitter!