Research and Professional Experiences Portfolio A
Questioning and feedback are tools used by every educator every day, whether realised or not. Questions can be used to recall prior learning, assess knowledge or aid understanding. Effective questioning as well as feedback, can elicit pupil motivation and participation while also providing opportunities for discussion, vicarious learning and greater exploration of subject matter. (Christenbury and Kelly, 1983) However, just as easily as they can be beneficial to learning, poorly constructed questions or feedback could create confusion or intimidate the pupils. While a complete lack of questioning and feedback could prevent learning and development altogether. In this assignment, I will critically discuss what I consider to be the key features of effective teacher questioning and feedback on learning, informed by various readings and my experiences from small classroom interventions.
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There are two main types of questions; lower order questions and higher order questions, and they can either be convergent or divergent. Lower order questions require pupils to recall or recite a piece of information. A higher order question, requires pupils to not just recall the learning but ensures that the pupil understands the subject matter. Convergent questions result in a narrow or short answer that doesn’t require depth of thinking or reflection. While a divergent question, requires the pupil to recall information, but also reflect on, or evaluate and expand their understanding of the subject matter. (McComas and Rossier)
Another way to classify questions is to examine the different cognitive levels. Bloom’s taxonomy of learning divides these cognitive levels into domains. (Bloom, 1956) Responses within the knowledge, comprehension, and application domains are a result of lower-order questioning, while answers in the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation domains are from higher-order questions. However, per author William Wilen, very few teachers use higher order divergent questions (Wilen, 1987) If educators use only lower level, convergent questioning, this only requires pupils to recite or recall information without the necessity for deep understanding of subject matter. Utilising a combination of lower and higher order questions aims to ensure and promote critical thinking and understanding, which can develop a pupil’s ability to problem solve. (Christenbury and Kelly, 1983)
From this, I believe if I over-use lower-order questions I will negatively affect the learning environment and stifle higher-order, critical thinking in my pupils. Considering and using a taxonomy of questions has helped me generate a wider scope of effective questions that not only require pupils to recall learning but also analyse, evaluate, and create. However, before utilising questioning, I ensure my classroom dynamic is compatible with a learning environment that invites discussion and participation. My art classroom has large tables allowing pupils to sit in groups of four or five, in which I can walk in among, rather than positioning myself at the top of the room. This arrangement ensures pupils can see and hear one another as well as myself. The second key feature to effective questioning is ensuring I pre-plan a series of questions before each lesson. Pre-planning my questions ensures I can implement a combination of lower and higher order questions and various questioning approaches, while also differentiating for certain learner needs and cognitive abilities.
The Socratic method of questioning is a give and take discourse I have found very beneficial to my teaching of Art, Craft and Design. (Criticalthinking.org) This method promotes inquiry, discussion and debate. Instead of transmitting information to the class, I carry out the lesson with probing and though provoking questioning. This approach revolves around three main types of questions, exploratory, spontaneous and focused. Exploratory questions find out how much pupils already know about a subject matter. I implement these types of questions usually at the beginning of a new topic. This can provide pupils the opportunity to build on their prior knowledge or correct misconceptions, also known as ‘unlearning’. I use spontaneous questions to probe pupils about a topic or a theme further to stimulate ongoing discussion. Spontaneous questions are also effective during one and one discussion with pupils about their work as it encourages the pupil to self-analyse or self-correct without myself having to directly point it out. Lastly, focused questions are used to narrow the focus of a topic to stimulate reflection or further analysis. (Criticalthinking.org)
I have found this method of questioning even more beneficial to pupil engagement, motivation and learning when used with Think. Pair. Share. Pupils don’t just consume information but they create, participate, and gain a deeper understanding of the topic. During critique of new artwork for example, pupils are asked to observe the piece of work and generate a short written analyse of the work on their own with the aid of several exploratory questions. Pupils are asked to explore their own ideas and opinions and call on their prior knowledge. Following this, pupils can share their thoughts with the pupils at their table giving them the opportunity to ask one another spontaneous questions, which invites the development of new perspectives. I am of the opinion, that pupils who have questions are truly thinking and being critical learners. Each group then shares their combined thoughts of the piece to the rest of the class creating an interesting group discussion and debate of the work. This stage of the process can allow for the use of more focused questions that get the pupils to think critically, but can also provide pupils with an opportunity to recognize gaps in their knowledge or where they need to improve or seek better understanding.
Phrasing and the timing of a question can influence its effectiveness greatly. If there are too many parts to a question, this can make it unclear and confusing to the pupils. Other issues can be asking too many questions of the same cognitive level, not giving pupils enough time to answer, or simply replying ‘No!’ to an incorrect answer. Effective questioning goes hand in hand with feedback. Reflecting on my own experience, during a recap of colour theory, I asked a pupil a lower order questions “When you mix blue and red, what colour does this make?” This question was part of a series of questions using the extending and lifting approach. However, the desired response was not forthcoming immediately. I gave the pupil some time to think and the pupil incorrectly said green would be the result. Instead of telling the pupil that their answer was incorrect and then asking another pupil, I commended this pupil on their thinking, stating that yes green is a secondary colour that is made from blue. I then asked if adding red to blue doesn’t make green what colour would you add to blue to make green? The pupil, through process of elimination, knew there are three primary colours so the answer must be yellow. I then asked the pupil what colour would result of adding yellow to red. The pupil knew the answer was orange and thus could figure out that red and blue must make purple.
This use of questioning not only required the pupil to call on and reinforce previous learning, but gave the pupil an opportunity to use their problem-solving skills and ability to critically think. Through this, I could also give formative feedback and mindful praise to the pupil on their ability to think something through and not just for giving a correct answer. This provided motivation and encouragement to the pupil, who otherwise could have felt some sort of humiliation for getting the question wrong previously. In this instance, it wasn’t answers this pupil needed but more information, as thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. Effective questions can define tasks and encourage problem solving, while answers can often stop thought. To think through anything questions are needed to stimulate thought.
Effective questioning, along with feedback has established a safe, welcoming atmosphere in my classroom where pupils are aware that their voice and contribution to the class is valued. Feedback with positive reinforcement is central to encouraging participation during questioning. Phycologist Carol Dweck stresses the importance of praise and argues that when we praise pupils for their effort rather than the end-product it can help them understand that intelligence is not fixed rather it can develop. (Dweck, 2016) However, it is vital to use mindful praise and not just praise for praise sake. During group critique of pupil work, I ensure myself, and the pupils, give feedback and analysis of work that is task orientated and focuses on the learning intentions. Initially, pupils would comment on peer work with statements such as, ‘that’s a really good drawing’ or ‘you are great at drawing’. However, these types of comments are known as ‘ego involving’ and feed into a fixed mind-set. As Dylan Wiliam states;
“There’s lots of different ways of looking at feedback, but a very important way of looking at feedback is whether its ego involving or task involving…And what the research shows very clearly is that ego involving feedback is rarely effective and, in fact, can lower achievement.’
(Wiliam, feedback on learning video)
John Hattie, Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, believes quality feedback should tell pupils what they are doing well and what and how they need to improve. (Hattie, 1999) The emphasis should not be on where they are at but where they need to go, or moreover the learning intentions and the agreed success criteria. In my classroom, I try to teach by this belief and ensure my pupils are always aware of the learning intentions and success criteria, which are written on the board for every lesson. The effectiveness of the feedback relies on the pupils understanding of what is expected of them. Hattie, argued that feedback is critical to improving learning and inspiring pupil motivation and their passion for learning. He states; “The most simple prescription for improving education must be dollops of feedback.” (Hattie, 1999)
The above discussion outlines my informed opinions on what I consider some of the most important features of effective questioning and feedback. These approaches will develop and improve throughout my career, as they shape me in becoming not just a teacher but hopefully an effective teacher.
- Anderson LW, Krathwohl DR, Airasian PW, et al. 2001 Taxonomy of Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 2nd ed, abridged. Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon;
- Bloom BS. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals: Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc;
- Cft.vanderbilt.edu. (2018). Vanderbilt Center for Teaching: Unlearning: A Critical Element in the Learning Process. [online] Available at: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/wpcontent/uploads/sites/59/vol14no2_unlearning.htm [Accessed 3 Dec. 2018].
- Christenbury L, Kelly PP. 1983. Questioning: A Path to Critical Thinking. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English;
- Dweck C. 2016. Mind-set: The New Psychology of Success. New York, Random House
Hattie J. 1999. Influences on Student Learning. Inaugural Lecture; University of Auckland. [online] Available at: https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/education/hattie/docs/influences-on-student-learning.pdf .
Accessed December 13, 2018
- McComas W, Rossier LA. Asking more effective questions. Rossier School of Education. [online] Available at: http://cet.usc.edu/resources/teaching_learning/material_docs/Asking_Better_Questions.pdf. Accessed December 4, 2018.
Neal MA. Engaging students through effective questions. Educ Can. 2012;52(4) [online] Available at: www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/engaging-students-through-effective-questions.
Accessed December 4, 2018
- Paul R, Elder L. 2008 Critical thinking: the art of Socratic questioning, part III. J Dev Educ [online] Available at: https://www.criticalthinking.org/store/products/the-art-of-socratic-questioning/231 Accessed December 4, 2018
- YouTube. (2018). 1 81 Feedback on learning Dylan Wiliam Learning and teaching. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzDuiqaGqAY [Accessed 13 Dec. 2018].
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