Using questions to teach is an age-old practice and has been a cornerstone of education for centuries. The concern, however, is on whether today’s teacher use the questions tactfully to realize their instructional goals.
One of the goals of teaching is not only to evaluate learning outcomes but also to guide students on their learning process. It is, therefore, important that, as teachers, we question students’ thinking and learning process. To this end, we could ask students to explain how they arrived at their conclusion/answer and in doing so, what sort of resources they had used and whether the resources had provided sufficient evidence, instead of are we together or isn’t it? Do not get me started on the true/false madness!
To be fair, some teachers successfully use questions to help students uncover what has been learned, to comprehensively explore the subject matter, and to generate discussion and peer-to-peer interaction. On other times, they use questions to increase high-order learning by requiring students to analyze information, connect seemingly disparate concepts, and articulate their thoughts. But in the spirit of fairness and honesty, we must acknowledge the many who are utterly devoid of the art of questioning.
The fact is that poor questions can stifle learning by creating confusion, intimidating students, and limiting creative thinking. On the other hand, effective questions asked in a psychologically safe learning environment support student learning by probing for understanding, encouraging creativity, stimulating critical thinking, and enhancing confidence. Teachers should therefore ask less questions in the knowledge, comprehension, and application domains which are considered lower-order questions, and more in theanalysis, synthesis, and evaluation domains- the higher-order questions.
This does not mean that lower-order questions are not as useful. It is appropriate to ask questions to address all cognitive domains as long as the desired learning outcome is kept in mind and a good mix of questions is used during each teaching session. However, given that the learning objectives in most courses in graduate and professional degree programs are often intended to stimulate high order cognitive processes, one would expect that higher-order questions would prevail during encounters between students and teachers.
Going one step further, it would be really engaging and motivating for the students (as well as the teacher) to have the whole class participate in a discussion, which would allow cross fertilization of ideas. This is in contrast to having a one- to- one, teacher to student question-answer session in the class. To initiate a class discussion, a good starting point would be to pose a question or make a statement that would elicit divergent responses, which could then be used to build further lines of discussions. In this case, planning the type of questions ahead of class would help to ensure that discussion is managed well within the allotted time.
Overall, as teachers, we not only need to have a clear intent for questioning, but we need to also learn to ask the right questions. To guide students on the learning process, it is essential to question on learning outcome (content) as well as students’ thinking and learning processes.
The writer is a Language Consultant