Questioning is a major aspect of teaching

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Introduction

Questioning is a major aspect of teaching and an element of communication within any classroom. Effective questioning is one of the most important methods of teaching that plays a great role in helping a student to think critically and beyond what is laid on the table.  However questioning will only improve a student’s critical thinking if it is done effectively.

There are a number of reasons why questions are asked to students. First and foremost it is to determine the level of knowledge students bring to the lesson to help gauge prior learning and to gauge understanding and performance. Secondly the questioning will stimulate students thinking as well as help to deepen students thinking levels.  This will in turn help to clarify ideas to the student. Questions will help students to learn from one another and also encourage motivation through active participation. These are but a few. However the most important of them all still remains simulation of the student thinking which in turn generates the other major important things in learning process.

Issues to be considered in questioning

Questioning is important and a central skill which every teacher needs to develop. As demonstrated above questioning is very important and thus it can only work when it’s effective. The teacher needs to make it effective by putting in consideration a number of issues so as to produce a maximum positive impact on the student. These issues are as described below.

Planning questions

(Kerry 1998) points out the importance of planning the key questions to be asked in class before the lesson takes off.   This is to ensure the discussion that is focussed has already been put into consideration. However this does not mean that all questions which the teacher thinks will be asked should be put in the list. The list should only have the key questions which may be three or four which will enable the students to develop an understanding.  The key questions will also play the role of critical starting points which generates further questioning and debate.  An example is where a teacher introducing a lesson on the experience of students as consumers. In planning for such a lesson, the three main questions which the teacher wants to include might be as follows;
“What do you buy most frequently and which shops do you buy such things from?”
‘Where are those items that you buy made from?’
‘What makes you buy those things?’
Other questions will generate from these major questions as the discussion progresses and they might even lead to generation of more and more questions but having these key to start with the teacher ensures that the critical issues which they would want to have in the lesson are present.
In doing this exercise the teacher should ensure that he doesn’t have an answer in the mind that he is attempting the student to get so as to capture the factor of flexibility. The teacher should be open to alternative responses.

Using appropriate language

The level of language that the teacher should use in developing classroom discussions is one of the most difficult things that beginning teachers face.  This is because such beginners have come straight from colleges as undergraduates and they tend to use the language of the levels that was used by their lecturers and such language is above the level that students can understand. Thus it is important for beginning teachers to consider consciously the level of language to use in classrooms which includes when they are planning questions.

Distributing questions

Children can hide in classrooms even when the teacher can see them. This comes up as a result of the teachers’ tendency to ask students to put up their hands if they have an answer to a particular question. This will obviously allows a lesson to acquire a level of pace that is flowing which makes the teacher believe that learning is quite fine. But if only 2 out 20students in a classroom put up their hands it tells how sad the situation is. It could even mean that the rest of the students don’t know anything and aren’t willing to participate. Thus there is the need for teachers to change the way in which they ask questions. Teachers may still invite responses by the use of hands but it should be mixed and interchanged with rest of the methods. Conscription is the most common of the alternatives where the teacher just names students and then asks them to respond the particular question. This is a very useful alternative which allows a teacher to have a greater number of students involved. This method when used very consciously can help to motivate the students in their learning. (Kerry, 1998) highlights that there is a cultural tendency for students to move to certain parts of the classroom depending on the levels to which they would like to participate in the lesson. Those students sited at the front and the centre are most keen and likely to be noticed and involved while those sited at the back of the room and especially at the corners prefer to keep a low profile and are not part of the lesson.

Timing and pausing

The time for delivery of questions is also vital. The teacher should clearly ask the questions and then give students time to digest the question by thinking through and to consider their responses. It has been has demonstrated that most instructors  give one second or less to a student to respond to a question so as to break the void that is brought by silence. However, if the instructor is asking questions which will require the students to think through and rethink before responding it is then important that the teacher ensures that silence is maintained.

The role played.

Thinking is always by questions driven and not by answers. To begin with the role played by questioning can be digested in the following example. If we had no questions asked by those people who formed the foundations for fields like Biology and Physics such fields would never have come to existence at all. In this same line of thoughts, it can be said that such fields stays alive only because fresh questions come up and need to be solved thus they can be taken seriously in their role as the  driving force in the  thinking process. For anyone to rethink anything or o think through, somebody else must ask be asking questions that will stimulate the thoughts. One reason that teachers overemphasize coverage other than engaged thinking is because they presume that it is possible to teach answers separately from questions. They have buried deeply   the questions in an established instruction such that all statements are assertions. An example of a statement is that the boiling point of water is 100 degrees centigrade which is the answer to the question “At what temperature does water boil?”  Thus each declaring statement in a textbook is an answer to a certain question. Hence, all textbooks can be written again, by teachers as they prepare for the lessons, in the interrogative mode which can be achieved by translating each and every statement into a question form. It is obvious for a student to try and think of an answer to certain when the question is administered. The students mind ranges far or takes a walk as the student tries to come up with the right answer to the question. The process of thinking hard and taking each of the possible answers into a critical analysis to find out if  it is really the right answer to the question in particular is a very important process that develops the thinking of a student. The student is able to digest the questions and after each and every answer more and more questions form. For example the student may be trying to find an answer to the question why the kangaroo has a pouch.  The student may find a lot of answers to this question for example the student might have a thought that it’s because it needs the pouch for storage of food. Another thought may be that the pouch would be necessary for its young ones.

At this point the student would think harder trying to evaluate which of the two possible answers would be the correct answer. At this juncture the student would be generating more questions in his mind. For example why would the kangaroo need to store food in the pouch? Another similar question is why the kangaroo would have the pouch for its young ones. The answer to these questions could help the student find out even the right answer. Thus the student could after all come to the finding that the pouch would necessary for the kangaroo to hide it young ones. And more interesting to this is that the student may even be curios to find out why the kangaroo would put it young one on a pouch. Well this way we find out that the student is ever getting question after each answer and every time trying to answer the questions that come up.  The opposite happens to the student who has never had questions to answer. Such a student would have a mind that is stagnant. Such a mind doesn’t move to any place.

It is important when the students participate in group work where they are able to ask the questions to their fellow students so as to know the various line of thinking that the fellow group members are using to arrive at the different ideas. Student may also ask questions in regard to the new ideas brought out in the discussion group. It should be noted that such discussion groups should be held after the students have tried to tackle the question. It is a mistake common in many of the learning institutions where discussion groups which have been set have tend to handle the questions in the group without having given time for the students to go through them individual. This is very bad especially for the lazy students who don’t wish to engage in thinking since they will just sit in a group meeting to be feed with answer by the more active students. In a discussion group the individual student is supposed to have the answers ready so that for any new idea they may pose the question. When putting across such questions the student should at the same time try to find out how the other came up with the idea. This way the new ideas click the student memory and the student will thoughts will be aroused. This will take his thought far in the line of thinking of the other student. This is another form in which the students thinking is simulated through question in group work.

The most important thing in learning is for the student to recall what he learns. Thus it is important for the student to stick all that he learns in his mind. It is common that for most of the student everything that he learns evaporates as soon as the teacher walks to the door. It is a very difficult task when the students try to memorize what they learnt in class by cramming them especially when the exams come around the corner. Through administering questions and stimulating student thinking a student is able to stick most of the things in the mind and this makes it easy for him to recall such without much effort. The process of stimulating thoughts makes a particular thought go around the mind for a couple of times as the mind travels in search of an answer or a reasonable explanation to answer. At one point when student gets used to the process question they develop in capacity of speed in giving the responses. At one time the student will obviously find some of the things already stuck in them the responds. This means the more the student is getting used to the questioning the higher and wider the capacity of his thinking and the better the quality of the responses given.

The important role played by questioning in improving students thinking can also be seen when the teacher feeds the student with a lot of endless content. The feeding of students with the stuff described as endless content is simply giving the students a lot of information which they are supposed to stick in their mind and remember in the appropriate times especially during the exam time. This can be said to be equal to repeatedly stepping on the brakes in of a car that is unfortunately resting already or is broken down.  Other than engaging in such students need to be asked questions so as to turn on their intellectual engines.  It is important that they to generate questions from questions of the teacher so as to get their thinking somewhere else and move their brains from resting. Thinking is to totally useless unless it goes somewhere. The type of questions asked also determines where our thinking goes.

Deeper questions will take out our thoughts from beneath the surface of things and will compel force us to deal with complex situations. For example questions based on our purpose will compel us to define particular tasks.  Then the Questions that are based on information will compel us to look for the source of the particular information and at the same time the quality of such information. Questions which regard interpretation will compel us to take a step in surveying how we are organizing or the meaning we are giving to the information. Assumption questions compel us to look at what we usually take for granted. Implication questions compel us to guard out the direction of our thinking. Questions that are related to the point of view compel us to look at our own point of view and also to consider other points of view which relevant and related to the subject matter.

Questions of relevance will compel us to sieve what does not and what bears on a particular question. Accuracy questions will compel us to evaluate and test correctness of the truth and subject matter. Precision questions force very specific and straight to the point. Lastly the questions that are based on logic compel us to consider how to piece all our thoughts together and ensure that it all adds up to make sense.

The questions asked will define tasks, delineate issues and express problems. On the other hand, answers will be a signal to a full stop in thought. It is only when an answer plays the role of generating further questions will the thought continue its stimulation. Thus it is true to say that it is only those students who have questions are actually learning and thinking. It would be a great idea that needs to.............


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