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Background

Here are some key ideas from the research into the role of questioning as part of Assessment for Learning (formative assessment):

Idea No. 1

In terms of student behaviour, strategic questioning encourages students to:

  • listen actively
  • speak
  • take turns
  • be actively involved with learning.
     

If the classroom culture does not encourage 'hands up', but rather emphasises that everyone is expected to think and be ready to answer any question, students are more likely to be involved with the lesson.

Likewise, if the classroom culture encourages the asking of questions and makes it okay to give a wrong answer, then students will be more likely to offer answers.

Idea No. 2

The asking of questions is a deliberate, planned activity.
 

  • Identify the learning intention and plan related questions to target knowledge, understanding or the teaching and learning strategies.
  • Plan for more open questions than closed questions, understanding that open questions provide more opportunities for the teacher to understand the thinking behind a response and more opportunities for the students to demonstrate their understanding.
  • Plan for questions that pose appropriate cognitive demands, not only in respect of the age and development of the student but also in terms of where the questions occur in the unit or lesson. This means asking knowledge and comprehension questions about new material prior to questions of analysis and evaluation.

Idea No. 3

Provide students with time to think after asking a question.

This means accepting a pause or silence as an integral part of questioning during class. More demanding, open-ended questions pose cognitive challenges. Students need time to reason and consider their answers. Research (Rowe 1972) strongly suggests that, where there is a lapse of time between question and answer, answers dramatically increase in quality. Where teachers wait for student responses, more students participate in answering, responses are longer and more confident, and students comment, respond to and thus build upon each other's answers.

Idea No. 4

A critical factor in enhancing the strategic effectiveness of questions is teacher receptiveness. The teacher's positive response to both good and wrong answers is essential.

  • A receptive, listening attitude on the part of the teacher is conveyed through:
    • facial expression
    • body language
    • verbal responses.

Responses to wrong answers can include:

  • the teacher rephrasing the original question
    • 'Let me put it another way…'
  • a request for clarification
    • 'What do you mean when you say …?'
  • a request for specific examples
    • 'How would this work?'
    • 'Can you give me an example of this?'
  • a request for rephrasing
    • 'Can you put it another way?'

Idea No. 5

The strategic effectiveness of questioning is further enhanced by:

  • moving around the room to make sure questions are more likely to be evenly distributed. Other ways of making sure questions are evenly distributed include allowing students to talk to each other about a question, asking everyone to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few, or giving students a choice of possible answers and having a vote on the correct option. All of these tactics increase student participation.
  • posing one question at a time. Asking a string of questions, particularly without any pause, is confusing.
  • providing prompt questions such as
    'Why do you think that?', 'Can you tell me more about …?' or 'Is it possible that ...?'
  • posing fewer, well chosen questions is more strategic as an assessment for learning strategy.

Idea No. 6

When planning, teachers need to decide the purpose of their questions and then select the most appropriate type of questions for that purpose. Bloom's taxonomy can assist with the framing of questions that pose different cognitive demands.

  • Knowledge and comprehension are assessed using closed questions that pose lower cognitive demands because they rely largely on memory and have one correct answer.
  • Application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation are assessed using open questions that pose higher cognitive demands, lead students to think for themselves and have several correct answers.
  • Both closed and open questions are important Assessment for Learning tools.
  • Closed questions are useful for establishing the core material of a unit, while open questions advance students into manipulating, extending and transforming this material.
  • Reliance only on closed questions, however, will limit the amount of information that teachers are likely to learn about their students, and will fail to make a range of cognitive demands on the students.

Idea No. 7

To phrase strategic and stimulating questions, teachers could make use of a number of other tools besides Bloom's. Some of these are:

  • De Bono's Six thinking hats
    The Six thinking hats is a strategy that encourages students to look at a topic or problem or idea from more than one perspective. Each hat represents a different kind of thinking and therefore different kinds of questions.
  • Wiederhold's Question matrix
    The Question matrix contains 36 question starters asking what, where, when, which, who, why and how. These questions are asked in present, past and future tenses, ranging from simple recall through to predictions and imagination or single questions depending on the task.
  • Thinker's keys
    Thinker's keys is a strategy to develop creative and critical thinking designed by Tony Ryan, a consultant for Gifted and Talented Programs in Queensland. Each of the 20 keys is a different question which challenges the reader to compose his or her own questions and come up with responses.

An Internet search using the names of these strategies will yield further information about them.

Bibliography

  • Godhino, S and Wilson, J 2004, How to succeed with questioning, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.
  • King, A 1992, 'Facilitating elaborative learning through guided student-generated questioning', Educational Psychologist, vol 27, no 1, pp 111-26.
  • Koechlin, C and Zwaan, S 2006, Q Tasks, Pembroke Publishers Limited, Markham, Canada.
  • Rowe, M.B 1974, 'Wait time and rewards as instructional variables: their influence on language, logic and fate control', Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol 11, pp 81-94.
  • Wiliam, D 1999, 'Mathematics - Part 1: Rich questioning', Equals, summer, vol 5, no 2, pp 15-18.
  • http://schoolnet.gov.mt/tssecondary/thinking%20intro.htm
    CoRT 1 Thinking tools which encourage students to question.