Question Time!

Thank you for this great blog which is written by another teacher from our school. If you would like to contribute a blog post, please email me on Enjoy!

‘So, what are some of the AFL techniques that you’ve been using in your classroom recently?’. The speaker stared at me.

It’s at this point that I froze, and that familiar red rash of embarrassment crept up my neck whilst I gave my most convincing death stare to the perpetrator of the question. I knew what my colleague was asking me; I understood why they had asked me; I even had some valid examples that I could give – that’s if I could remember them. You see in theory, I should have been explaining my use of mini-plenaries, my utilisation of mini-whiteboards, quick fire quizzes, learning journals, talking partners in the classroom, yet I instead mumbled something inane about self-evaluation and allowed another colleague to swoop in and save the day, as they shared their insightful comments on the subject. Now I still remember this episode even though it was right at the beginning of my teaching career. I was a fully-fledged adult and successful teacher in the making; I was a confident public speaker and comfortable in the company of the staff that I was at the meeting with. Nevertheless, being put on the spot and asked a question which I wasn’t expecting, completely threw me off guard, and to be honest it knocked my confidence. And, it wasn’t just that time either: in most staff meetings, I dread the quiet lulls, and I’m guessing like many of my colleagues, I’m wishing the speaker to leave me alone and to avoid asking me a question.

But there’s no getting away from it when you’re a pupil: questioning is the bread and butter of teaching, and in classrooms up and down the land, questions should be flying around the room. However, teachers still put students on the spot, and I’m just as guilty as anyone: ‘Okay Rachel, what’s the effect of the cyclical structure that Steinbeck employs in Of Mice and Men?’ By the time you’ve finished asking the question, Rachel has only just processed that you’ve spoken to her, is quietly getting over the shock and embarrassment of her peers staring in her direction and is desperately trying to recall anything you’ve ever taught her. It’s not even that Rachel doesn’t want to answer, but she just wants time. In fact, research carried out by the National Strategy determined that teachers tend to only wait 0.7 – 3 seconds for an answer from a pupil after they’ve posed a question. However, they also found that most students don’t even start to think of an answer before 10 seconds.

So, why do we still do it? Why do we hound until we feel we have the answer that’s sitting in ours heads, even though we know we’d hate to be in their position? Most probably because we feel the pressure for the students to acquire the knowledge and to edge their way nearer to their potentials. Yet somehow, we need to find the balance and ensure that knowledge and independent thinking is being nurtured in our classrooms in equal measures. And I don’t think that it’s as hard as we may think: we simply need to give them time. THINKING TIME. Proper, dedicated time to questioning, thinking and discussion. If we regularly built this into our lessons and made it a priority, students would not only be able to think more actively in lessons but could also learn from their peers too.

Below are some ideas that I use in my classroom and some which I’m beginning to trial. They’re certainly not revolutionary, but the outcome could most definitely improve the learning in your classrooms and take some of the pressure off you!

And remember, when questioning: pose (ask the question), pause (give them time to do so however that may be), pounce (ask them their thoughts) and bounce (ask others to build on the points made).

Happy questioning!


Strategy Benefit

Consciously waiting for a pupil or class to think through an answer. Silence for 30 seconds as everyone thinks. Embrace the time and encourage it not to be awkward.

Promotes depth of thought and encourages levels of challenge. Ensures all pupils have had time to formulate a view/opinion.

Time for thinking and talking about the question posed. Teachers should dedicate at least 30 seconds each time.

Pupils have thinking time and it encourages them to collaborate and develop their answers. All pupils have confidence in being asked the question.

Teacher AND pupils move the discussion around the room, and question others on the initial answer given.  Teacher accepts ‘half-formed’ ideas and allows other students to build on this. Works in collaboration with Thinking time.

Engages all pupils and stops the focus on the teacher for all the questioning. Develops connected thinking and development of ideas.

Removes stress of those who can’t initially answer and allows them to seek help from a peer.

Encourages whole class listening and support. Removes initial stress and supports slightly weaker pupils. *THIS IS NOT A GET OUT CLAUSE HOWEVER! PUPILS SHOULD KNOW THAT THEY NEED TO THEN RETURN THE FAVOUR FOR SOMEONE ELSE*

A teacher or pupil becomes the author/examiner/character/expert and is interviewed by the class. Questioning skills should be recapped prior to this.

Encourages listening for detail and provides challenge. It also remind students of how questions are formulated and what they’re asking you to do.

Questions are shared or displayed before being asked, or at the start of the lesson. You may even use *flipped learning* to help introduce a new idea and prepare the students for your questioning.

Signals the big concepts and learning of the lesson.

In pairs, the students use Time out to not only discuss their ideas but agree responses together and alter if needed.

Encourages interaction, engagement and depth to answers.

These questions should be definitely pre-planned and should focus on Bloom’s taxonomy. You may well deliberately increase the difficulty of the question and model how the questioning is becoming more difficult.

Provides high challenge thinking and definitely creates an opportunity for more depth in answers.

This is all about getting more than the minimum. Students must answer the question in more than 15 words. Their answer should be developed. You may well also ban particular words or phrases in order to increase the challenge. This should be modelled beforehand.

Develops speaking and reasoning skills, whilst also focusing on the correct technical language to use. Fosters more developed answers and ties in with Talk for Writing.

Each pupil is given a question card:

A – ANSWER (voluntarily answer a question posed by the teacher or another student)

Q – QUESTION (Ask a question to a pupil or teacher)

C- CHALLENGE (Build on someone’s answer ad deliberately challenge their idea)

They have to do each of these things before they leave the classroom. They are to place each card in front of them as they complete it to visually show the teacher their progress.

Encourages all to participate and fosters high level questioning and challenge. Teacher is also able to quickly gauge who ca confidently answer and question on the subject.


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