The Power of a Teacher’s Question
I spent today at a presentation by Dr. Barrie Bennett. Dr. Bennett used his book “Graphic Intelligence” to guide a discussion on teacher’s instructional practices. For me the most fascinating part of the day was around the concept of “Framing Questions”.
As an educator, how much thought do you put in to the questions you ask? I know we are aware of the need for open and closed questions and the need to expand beyond knowledge-based questions. I personally have really enjoyed using the ‘Deepening Comprehension’ questions used at the end of David Booth‘s book, “It’s Critical“(page 147-150 of this link). These questions are mainly of the ‘analyze’ or ‘evaluate’ level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, but Dr. Bennett questions how many educators are aware of the cognitive level of the questions they pose. As Dr. Bennett puts it, we need to”own” Bloom’s. It is his contention that until we do, our classrooms will not produce the learning they are capable of.
Beyond the issue of questioning and task, I was fascinated by Dr. Bennett’s observations of the types of techniques we employ on a daily basis in our classrooms. Who has ever used the phrase “Who can tell me…?”? How about “Raise you hand if…”? As Dr. Bennett skillfully explains, these phrases only appeal to only those who know the answer and are willing to share. Further, they are not asking the students to engage in any thinking at all.
To address this, Dr. Bennett is a big proponent of the ‘Think, Pair, Share’ strategy. Pose a question, ask the student to reflect and then share their thoughts with an elbow partner. Spending 20 seconds using this strategy instead of simply posing a question and asking for a show of hands engages every student in the thinking process. Dr. Bennett adds another layer to this when he explains that he prefaces the task by explaining that three pairs will be chosen at random to share their answer with the class, thus creating a situation of accountability.
This simple strategy, used consistently, has been show to improve student achievement dramatically. Dr. Bennett’s logic and common-sense are undeniable. I am as guilty as any educator of framing my questions in such a way as to make response optional. Many reasons lead to this, not least of which are the time constraints placed on us to cover what we need to cover and get on to the task. Until today I was not ready to accept that by making answering optional, I was making thinking optional.