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Why asking the right questions can make all the difference!

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March 7, 2016

Why asking the right questions can make all the difference!

Is teaching students how to ask their own questions really so important? The ability to ask and answer questions is central to learning. For more than two thousand years (since Socrates), questioning has been an integral part of learning.

Young children are natural question-askers. They have to learn how to adapt to a complex and changing environment. But whether they continue to ask questions depends largely on how adults respond to them. Question asking is the most significant intellectual tool human beings have.

How to develop questioning skills?

Questions should play a central role in the learning process. If a teacher utilizes questions effectively, students will discover that the question is a very valuable learning tool. It is a device through which they can organize their thinking to achieve certain objectives. Asking good questions is probably one of the most important and powerful workplace interpersonal skills. Good questions are purposeful, clear, brief, natural (stated simply in conversational English), thought provoking, limited in scope and adapted to the level of the class. Children need to be taught to freely generate new ideas, analyse a given text, synthesise research, make meaning of what they are studying and describe what they know and how they can use it. In order to do all the above, children need three distinct thinking abilities.

  • Divergent thinking: The ability to generate a wide range of ideas and think broadly and creatively.
  • Convergent thinking: The ability to analyse and synthesize information and ideas.
  • Metacognition: The ability to think about one’s own thinking and learning.

We need to encourage children to probe deeper into what they have said and what they think, through what has been called ‘empathetic challenging’. Enquiring into a child’s thinking facilitates thinking. Metacognitive questions can offer the challenge to children’s need to become conscious of their thoughts and feelings, before, during or after an activity. Metacognitive review can help children link fragments of experience during a lesson to the wholeness of their experience. Questions can be classified into different levels according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. (Cognitive Domain) From the Highest

6. Evaluation: requires that the students make an assessment of good or not so good, according to some standards.

5. Synthesis: requires that the students find a solution to a problem through the use of original, creative thinking.

4. Analysis: requires that the students solve a problem through the systematic examination of facts or information.

3. Application: requires that the student solves or explains problems by applying what he/she has learned to other situations and learning tasks.

2. Comprehension: requires that the students think on a low level such that the knowledge can be reproduced or communicated without a verbatim repetition.

1. Knowledge: requires that the students recognize or recall information.

What makes questioning so powerful?

Curiosity is the key to learning and questions are one of the most powerful tools for getting your child’s attention. The teacher could set up certain rules for producing questions in the class. This will facilitate a behaviour that contributes to effective questioning. They could be as simple as

  • Asking as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to discuss, judge or answer any question
  • Write down every question exactly as it is stated
  • Change any statement into a question.

Sometimes we ask

straightforward questions which are relatively easy to answer while at other times we ask questions that are challenging to answer. Classroom teaching practices, including questioning, are critical indicators of teacher effectiveness. When questioning, teachers should focus on posing open-ended questions of a consistent quality that allow students time to reflect and respond. Teachers need to remember to ask questions of all students, even those who may struggle. When presenting questions, content specific vocabulary should be used and many of the questions asked should be open-ended and elicit a variety of responses from students. There is far more value in open- ended questions as they lead to more than one-word answers. Besides they are helpful for exploring ideas and opinions, crystallising thoughts and gaining more detailed and quality information.

Asking questions is also an important form of communication. One questioning technique which is essential to the development of higher thought processes is wait-time. This is the amount of time that elapses between a teacher asking a question and calling upon a student to answer that question. Finally when the child asks questions, it creates strong relationships and helps the child learn and grow.

Teach students to ask their own questions…

Geeta Karunakaran is the founder Principal of Paul George Global School, Alaknanda, New Delhi. She has varied experience in schools across India over the last 22 years. She graduated in English (Hons) from Pune University, completed her B ED and her Masters thereafter. She started her career as an English teacher in the primary section and went on to teach English to senior school children. She has been the Principal of an Army School. She also had the opportunity to head a pre-primary wing of a reputed school in the NCR and then became the Vice-Principal of a well-known school in Faridabad. She is a qualified out-bound trainer after having worked with Pegasus Institute of Excellence, Bangalore. Later, she joined Educomp as a Training Head and led a team in pedagogy training. She has been an excellent and active sports person in her school days. She reads avidly and has a passion for writing too.

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