What questions do we ask? How do we ask?
I would like to start off by saying I think this is a very important topic. I believe questions in an educational setting, and many others for that matter, are imperative for gaining knowledge. The two kinds of questions asked in the classroom are open ended questions and closed ended questions. Joanne Chesley addressed both of these kinds of questions in her YouTube video Asking better questions in the classroom. Joanne explained that closed ended questions only require a one word answer and often times require little thinking. For example; Is the University of South Alabama located at the corner of University Boulevard and Old Shell Road? The answer is very simple, it is either yes or no. Now how about changing the question up a little; Where is the University of South Alabama located? The latter question is an open ended question because it invokes thought. If one doesn't know where USA is located they will have to research and find out. Joanne advocates that open ended questions lead to critical thinking and more well rounded answers. Now before we label closed ended questions the big bad wolf, can they be used in a productive way? The answer is yes, but they must have a critical component attached at the hip. That component is a follow up question. Is Hydrogen the first element in the periodic table? Now the follow up question makes an appearance. Why is hydrogen the first element on the periodic table? In this case the closed ended question is just a starting point for tapping into the students knowledge base. This idea of the follow up question was touched on by the article Asking questions to improve learning on the Washington University in St. Louis website.
So, what other kinds of questions should be asked? According to Ben Johnson in his article titled The right way to ask questions in the classroom specific questions should be asked. Ben pleads for the general question,"Does everyone understand?" to be tossed out and the use of more specific questions to be put in its place. By asking specific questions it definitely stimulates critical thinking. Just asking specific questions doesn't right the ship because the way one asks the question also plays a vital role.
So, how does one ask specific questions that promote critical thinking? Ben Johnson suggests to wait for three seconds after the question and then call out a specific student for an answer. By doing this it gives all students a few seconds to think about a response and then by selecting a random student to answer the question it has the potential to involve everyone in the class. I can personally say that this method has worked for me when my instructors have done this. If I was in a class and knew the teacher randomly called on students for answers, I would pay closer attention and also make sure I was prepared for the material prior to class. Maryellen Welmer gave several great tips on how to ask questions in her article Three ways to ask better questions in the classroom. One suggestion was to be prepared. Before classes, sit down and write out relevant questions related to the lesson plan. Flying by the seat of one's pants can often result in ineffective or unclear questions, but being prepared with the right questions can supplement a lesson plan making it more effective. Another point Maryellen made was to take notes on which questions worked the best and rethink the ones that didn't. By doing this, the questions can become very effective over the long haul.
Overall, asking the right questions and asking them in the right way can be the difference between students gaining knowledge or daydreaming about football practice after school. By using open ended questions, specific questions, eliminating general questions, and being prepared before hand to do these things a better learning environment can be created. It will take effort for both teachers and students, but taking the first step as a teacher can get the ball rolling.