What remote learning has taught us about: Questioning

In the third instalment of this mini-series from Durrington, we take a look at what we have tried, learned and will take forward from remote teaching in regards to questioning. Despite the obvious barriers to effective questioning in the remote environment, teachers at Durrington and across the country rose to the challenge to ensure this remained a fundamental and effective corner stone of our practice.

What we have tried:

  • The number of multiple-choice questions asked and quizzes created has probably never been higher, but perhaps more importantly so is the quality of the questions posed. Through use of Google/Microsoft forms teachers have created a vast bank of questions that can be used again and again. Due to the limited opportunity for immediate elaborative questions to explore student responses, the initial questions and potential answers have perhaps undergone much more planning and consideration than perhaps they normally would.
  • An added benefit of the question banks being created is the enhanced consistency of question being posed to students across classes. In the first blog of this series Chris Runeckles discussed how remote explanation had the beneficial impact of allowing field experts to explain concepts to the whole cohort, and these benefits are mirrored in allowing the field expert to ask questions of the whole cohort.
  • We have posed questions in the class stream, within pre-recorded and live lessons
  • Importantly we have given students time to consider these questions before cold calling on certain students to answer them later in the lesson.
  • We have given students time to respond to questions posed and then asked students to respond simultaneously to prevent copying of responses etc.
  • To fill the silence that can emanate from the remote classroom we have asked questions to stimulate debate and have “bounced” responses around the “room”.
  • We have used mote, private comments and the live stream to ask elaborative questions.
  • We have planned our questions so that they are harder to “google” – i.e. asking students questions that require them to apply their knowledge to specific examples/contexts or asking follow up questions such as “what if…”
  • We have asked questions designed to promote student regulation and prompt them to plan and monitor their own work, so as to replace our ability to intervene when work goes off track in the face to face classroom.

What we have learned

  • Remote learning has only reinforced the idea that the quality of the “distractor” answers in multiple choice questions is as important as the correct answer. As such the quality of the “distractors” in the potential answer banks has been much higher, allowing for deeper diagnosis of student misconceptions. For example, Chris Runeckles (Assistant Director of the Research School) created a series of question for the year 10 history cohort. On one question regarding the criminalisation of witchcraft 32 of the 147 were correct, but over 70% incorrectly chose James I allowing the history team to not only identify a knowledge gap but also discuss the potential source of the misconception (and as such how to address it in future teaching).
  • Don’t use names until you have asked (and given time to think about) the question – this ensures all students remain engaged in the question and thinking process until the very last second. Bouncing the question straight to over students, rather than feeding it back through us as the teacher, keeps students listening/reading each other’s responses.
  • Giving students time to put their thoughts onto paper (or screen) can encourage students to consider the question more carefully before responding. This also has the added benefit of encouraging some of our quieter students to respond to questions.
  • Linked to the above, the remote classroom (especially the stream) makes it very clear when a small group of students are dominating question response and therefore the importance of teachers tracking who they have and are yet to question in a lesson.
  • The important of pausing – somehow that nerve inducing period of silence post posing a question seems even more deafening in the online classroom, but more often than not responses do come in. Without the pressure of an audience many students will consider their response rather than saying the first thing that comes to mind, suggesting we just need to give the students time. This has really re-emphasised the importance of allowing students thinking time after posing a question.
  • The importance of planning our questioning – it is something that we probably all remember being told during our formative years as a teacher or having even told our trainee teachers, however in the face of a full timetable and other pressures questioning can become ad hoc and planned on the hoof. While the experience and skills of many teachers means that they get by, the need for pre-planned questions in pre-recorded lessons has really driven home the importance of planning the questions you are going to ask within the lesson, to best enable assessment of student understanding.
  • Ensuring that part of this planning focuses on questions that prompt and explore student’s self-regulation so they become more practiced in monitoring their own work

What we will keep:

  • The bank of multiple-choice questions is a fantastic resource for future formative assessment – either in lessons or as homework. The Google forms function that summarises the most incorrectly answered question(s) allows teacher to quickly identify misconceptions and address these. We should also ensure that the quality of the distractors we include remains high when creating any new multiple choice questions.
  • While the face to face classroom should negate the need to get students to respond simultaneously (as we have done in the stream), we can take from this experience, the importance of not naming students until the last minute and giving students time to respond. As Fran mentions in her previous blog in this series this pause should often be up to twice as long as we probably feel is necessary. Furthermore, we may wish to consider that on our most significant questions, such as hinge questions, giving students the time to jot down thoughts may also support the quality of student responses.
  • Remote teaching has made it much clearer when the same students are answering all of the questions, while discerning this in the face to face classroom is more challenging, it is imperative that we are constantly aware of who has been questioned and responded, so as to prevent domination by a minority. In the second blog of this series Fran Haynes suggests using a seating plan to tick every time you ask a student a question is an easy way to check who you have and have not called upon.
  • Using subject meetings to co-plan questions for forthcoming lessons so these are effective in helping assess student understanding, including questions that will explore and promote student regulation.

by Ben Crockett

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