In an ideal world, teachers would be able to hook electrodes to their students’ heads and scientifically measure their understanding. Unfortunately, science has yet to advance to this point. Modern teachers must still rely on the age-old method of determining student understanding by questioning them. It is only through effective use of questioning skills that teachers can determine what their students already know. Because knowing what the students already understand is vital to proactively planning future instruction, the integration of effective questioning skills into the teaching process is necessary for instruction to be as effective as possible.
To question effectively, teachers must ask questions that test the depth of students’ understanding. They cannot effectively do this if they don’t vary question complexity. To modify question complexity appropriately and systematically, teachers should use Bloom’s Taxonomy vocabulary. Bloom’s Taxonomy scores levels of development that start with basic remembering and advances all the way to complex creating. When questioning students, teachers should test from various levels and not just the lowest ones. This ensures students are adequately challenged and encouraged to engage in the key topics so learning objectives are met, according to Faculty Focus, a website for higher educational professionals.
Some students seem to have their hands perpetually lofted into the air while others never demonstrate an eagerness to answer a question. To effectively involve and question students, teachers must ensure that all students participate in questioning. Teachers can use a number of techniques to ensure full participation. One of the most common consists of writing the students' name on Popsicle sticks and placing them in a jar. The teacher then randomly pulls these sticks, thus requiring all students to be attentive during the questioning portions of the lesson. Other teachers elect to mark participation in their grade books so they don’t call on the same student before all students have been engaged in answering questions.
Teachers aren’t often in the position of teaching only one student at a time and must instead pose questions to groups of students. This presents a challenge because students fit into all levels of understanding. To question most effectively, teachers must know what skills each individual student has and pose questions to that specific student that falls within the student’s zone of proximal development, an intangible area in which tasks are neither too easy nor too hard. To effectively accomplish this, teachers must compose questions at varying ability levels and ask them appropriately.
Silence is scary. It can be stressful for teachers to pose questions and wait as the room falls silent and students contemplate responses. For many teachers, the natural inclination is the fill the silence with something, often an answer or another question. To engage in effective questioning, however, teachers must be comfortable with wait time. They must be willing to pose questions and listen to the figurative crickets chirp while students formulate their responses. The more adept a teacher can become at waiting, the more likely she is to receive responses to all of her questions as students learn that they can’t wait her out.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.