Bright spots: Questioning

In this weeks Durrington Research School blog, Research School Director Shaun Allison discussed how one of our pedagogical principles, questioning, interplays with the 5 other principles that we base our teaching on at Durrington:

  • Challenge
  • Explanation
  • Modelling
  • Practice
  • Feedback

Shaun explains how when in the midst of an explanation on new knowledge we may use questioning to elicit what students already know so as to support the development of schema, while during the process of giving feedback we may question students on where they might have gone wrong. Having read this blog, I went out and around our school to find some questioning bright spots.

In maths, Research School Associate, Deb Friis was working with her year 10 class on converting different units of length to standard units (i.e. mm to cm/m). As Deb was explaining the process you would take she questioned the students to assess their understanding of the units of measurement and how they compared to each other. Deb asked the students to visually show how a centimetre by holding their finger and thumb apart to the approximate distance they thought a centimetre was, and then to do likewise for a millimetre. From this Deb was able to ask how many millimetres they thought would fit into a centimetre and address some pre-existing misconceptions that it the answer would be 100mm. Deb then modelled a conversion from mm to cm on the board, and then allowed the students to complete one on their own. She then cold called on a student to give their answer. Unfortunately, this student had got the answer incorrect. Deb then questioned the student on the steps or process he had taken to come to that answer, in doing so she was able to identify the point at which he had gone wrong and correct this.

Again in maths, Jamie Veness, was modelling hoe to work out nth term equations. As I entered the room Jamie was just completing his own modelled example, he then began a different model which he broke down into component parts. At the end of each part he questioned the students on how they would do this part of the task and why they would do it in such a way, allowing him to really elicit their understanding. Before then allowing them to complete an example on their own, Jamie then asked a range of metacognitive questions such as “remind me what steps you will need to go through?” and “how/where can you check that you are doing it right?” ensuring that students were thinking about their planning and monitoring when completing the task.

In Geography, Sam Atkins, was using “think, pair, share” to give students time to discuss and formulate answers before cold calling on students. Sam was then following up initial answers with further elaborative questions to extend students thinking. In addition to this Sam displayed high expectations of the vocabulary students used in answers, expecting them to use tier 2 and 3 vocabulary in place of their initial, mainly tier 1 vocabulary, responses. For example, as one student discussed how scientists were trying to “fix” coral reefs, Sam directed them to re-read the text they had been given and find the word the article used to refer to the scientists activities – “restoration.” Once the student had found and used this, Sam followed it up with a question to another student to ensure they understood what the word meant and asked them to use it in a sentence to show their understanding. Importantly here Sam did not accept a partially correct answer – the initial definition the student gave suggested that they associated the word “restoration” with replacing things. Rather than accept this and then change their wording to be correct, Sam challenged the student to re-think their response.

Elsewhere in Geography, Evie Steele, was discussing with her year 9 class the reasons for wealth/development inequalities between countries. The class had initially come up with some good ideas, however had not considered the dominant job sector in low versus high income countries. To elicit this thinking and demonstrate the links within the curriculum, Evie reminded the students about their “World of Work unit” from year 7 and then asked them to define and give examples of the 4 main jobs sectors. From this Evie was able to attach an understanding that in LIC’s primary sector employment was often dominant to their pre-existing schema.

Finally, in History, Deputy Curriculum Leader Emily Hitchcock, was discussing the division of Berlin post WWII. When cold calling on a student to explain the differences between east and west Berlin the student responded with “I don’t know”. Importantly rather than accepting this and moving on to another student, Emily remained with this student and rephrased her question to support the student. When the student still responded with “I don’t know”, Emily restructured the question again converting it into a multiple-choice question that the student was able to answer. Emily then questioned the student to explain why the answer they had given was correct and as such the first initial question had actually been answered.

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