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Mastering Questioning Skills

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July 3, 2015

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Mastering Questioning Skills

Children are born with immense natural curiosity and have so many wonderful questions spinning in their minds. They want to know all about what they observe and all that happens around and beyond. And thus, they ask questions. As they reach the various milestones of their cognitive development they like to investigate, seek, probe things they don’t know or comprehend. Asking questions using the pointed words like what, why, how, when, and where and parents answering their queries make the children happy and this encourages them to ask more and widen their curiosity stratum.

Children are born with immense natural curiosity and have so many wonderful questions spinning in their minds. They want to know all about what they observe and all that happens around and beyond. And thus, they ask questions. As they reach the various milestones of their cognitive development they like to investigate, seek, probe things they don’t know or comprehend. Asking questions using the pointed words like what, why, how, when, and where and parents answering their queries make the children happy and this encourages them to ask more and widen their curiosity stratum.

But just as the child crosses the threshold of school his/her ‘know-how’ enthusiasm gets into a new phase as he is introduced to new learning experiences in a different environment. Now his/her teacher is assigned to address his queries. Our school system more or less still continues to carry on the tradition of classical didacticism where the teacher largely remains at the centre of instructional plan and a child is expected to answer all questions raised by him/her. I often hear students complaining ‘my teacher gets angry when I ask’.

On March 14 every year we commemorate and celebrate the birth anniversary of the great scientist Albert Einstein and about the importance of asking questions. This is a time to remember this great genius, who told us, ‘The important thing is not to stop questioning,’ while also urging us to question everything.

Structure of Using
Questioning Skills:

Educators and researchers, in pedagogical terms have customarily classified questions according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchy of increasingly complex intellectual skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy comprises these six categories:

  • Knowledge based questions – to recollect data or information
  • Comprehension – to appraise, understand meaning of concept, theory or model.
  • Application – to use a concept in a new situation or viewpoint.
  • Analysis – to detach concepts into parts; distinguish between facts and inferences.
  • Synthesis – to combine learning parts to form new meaning, relate learning to new situations and experiences.
  • Evaluation – to make judgments about the value of ideas or product in new and different situations.

Questioning by the teacher:

In planning and implementation of the curriculum, the teacher’s role is of paramount significance. Teachers are trained to frame questions for the lessons they teach in the classroom — questions that help to judge previous knowledge, comprehension, thinking and analytical skills of learners. But the most important aspect is the way the teacher conducts the questioning session among his learners. In my school, teachers work together to first prepare questions to be asked and prepare and arrange display of visual or thought provoking stimulating aids like pictures, charts, real objects, tools used at workplaces, flashcards, etc. Questions to be asked are framed category wise as per the requirement of the topic to be introduced and taught. In the pre-teaching session the teacher using the relevant teaching–learning aid asks simple but well-framed and well-phrased introductory questions. This gives the learners opportunity to engage themselves in the activity and give responses. During the teaching session, the teacher frequently asks questions to assess the learners for their comprehension, and understanding of concepts, models or content based reasoning. Further in the post–teaching session, the teacher asks relevant questions pertaining to recapitulation, to judge the analytical, factual and synthesized learning.

Questions by the learners: We get from our learners what we give them. In today’s competitive world learners must be given exposure to skills that help them to enhance their communication skills, power of reasoning, logical stamina. They must be given equal opportunities to widen their learning experiences. What the teachers ask them, they too must be skilled to open their mouth to ask, know and understand. After the teaching session, I organize ‘Question Quest’, a fifteen minute interactive session where learners are encouraged to ask relevant questions and the same are answered. This practice of give and take questions by the learners helps them to widen their learning horizon and help to build their confidence, and verbal skills.

Do and Don’ts in Developing Questioning Skills:

The art of questioning is the very soul and spirit of effective teaching. Though all teachers use the questioning skill in their instructional sessions but all are not efficient in asking flawless questions. For effective and useful questioning one must consider the pros and cons of this skill.

  • Develop questioning taxonomy. Plan, prepare, and search relevant questions in the content to be taught in hierarchical order from lower to higher cognitive levels. Don’t ask random questions without planning.
  • Ask only one thing per question. Don’t ask double barreled questions. Avoid asking about two or more things in the same question.
  • Be specific and clear about your question. Adhere to simplicity and clarity. Don’t use jargon, double negatives and vague words or sentences.
  • Give learners ‘time to think’ and respond. Let them understand and recapitulate information. Do not discourage them if they fail to answer. Give cues to simplify the question first.
  • Ask a variety of questions. Prefer asking open ended questions where learners answer instead of merely making choices. Avoid asking close ended questions. Encourage and appreciate learners for right answers. Use positive questions.
  • Ask question randomly giving chance to all learners. Don’t direct questions to a specific group of children who always answer.
  • Reinforcement. Don’t insult or scold for wrong answers.

We often talk or read about latest pedagogical innovations like Mind Mapping, Speed Reading, Flipped Teaching, Digital Smart classes, etc. that have significantly changed the teaching-learning scenario and ushered in stress free and independent learning environment. But use of questioning by the teacher and learners as a pedagogical tool still and will ever remain the most used and viable tool for learning. So often while conducting ‘Question Quest’ Session with my learners in my classes I get very interesting questions from children and I see others listening to their answers delightfully. Sometimes I wonder whether someone sitting in my class is a budding Isaac Newton with his innocent question, ’Why does the apple fall to the ground and not go up?’

While preparing for another set of questioning sequence for the next teaching session I bear in mind these interesting lines of a poem written by Rudyard Kipling.

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are
What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Ashok Singh Guleria

Ashok Singh Guleria

Ashok Singh Guleria teacher of 19 years standing, is a post- graduate in English Literature. He writes on pedagogical issues and children’s behavioural concerns. Currently, he is the Head of Department of English and Academic coordinator cum Teachers’ Trainer at the Akal Academy Group of Schools, Kajri U.P.

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