Questioning questioning 

Since Geoff Petty shared his ‘which questioning‘ strategy with me around 6 years ago, I have been on a mission to hone my questioning. It is a great little activity that really gets you thinking about making effective use of questions. To this day, I use an adapted version of the activity with my own trainees. Indeed, I often focus observation feedback on the development of questioning as an essential formative assessment approach.


It’s easy to see why this is the focus of many teachers up and down the country. Hattie’s synthesis of classroom experiments (2015) found questioning to have a modest, but positive effect size of 0.48 and the resulting classroom discussion a huge 0.82.

The thing is, I’ve found more and more that trainees are focusing too much on questioning individuals (they do it well), and less time on the instructing or allowing learners to practise. It seems that ‘the question’ has taken precedent over ‘the answer’.

I observed a session recently where the teacher insisted on working their way around the class with questions, yet many of the learners didn’t have sufficient prior knowledge to allow them to explore understanding through discussions. It appeared that the opportunity cost of such a strategy was not as fruitful as one might have thought. Due to questioning being a strategy held in high regard, I can understand why they persisted, but it just didn’t help the learners. Instead, the group lost interest rather quickly and low level disruption ensued.

Were the teacher to use questioning more efficiently (second time I’ve used this term in as many posts), through a selection of multiple choice questions which can be answered by all in a short time, the teacher may have realised that the learners required some input/guidance to increase knowledge and enable greater participation in discussions.

Arguably a good starting point for thinking about questioning in the classroom is to ask yourself what the purpose is. Is it to assess learner knowledge/understanding, or is it to teach learners something through discussion? Perhaps it is both, but the main reason should influence the type of questions used. Personally, I use questioning as an assessment tool and the quicker I am able to assess ALL learners the better, so that I can identify gaps in knowledge that need filling. I’m not dismissing questioning as a means to generate good class discussion, but appreciate that time is of the essence with our learners and we should aim to maximise every last drop of it.


5 thoughts on “Questioning questioning 

    1. Although questioning can be used a form of formative assessment, it can also be considered as a key strategy to promote students to think critically. Davis (1993) stresses that thoughtful and disciplined questioning in the classroom can help children develop problem solving skills as well as improve long-term retention of knowledge.

      Cotton, K. 1989. Classroom questioning. School Improvement Research Series. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

      1. Thanks, Fahmida.

        Perhaps it does act as a scaffold to think critically and to problem solve, though without learners having sufficient knowledge to do so, would be a fruitless and inefficient approach (in my opinion).

        P.S. Something awry with the citations here.

  1. Leung and Mohan (2004) claimed that questioning can be an important and essential method of assessment within the classroom. Deeper questioning and oral assessment can help to deepen children’s thinking. Freeman and Lewis (1998) indicated that summative assessments should not always be through formal testing, suggesting that questioning can be used for summative assessment.

    Freeman, R. Lewis, R (1998) Planning and Implementing Assessment – choosing Methods. London. Kogan Page Limited. Pp98-101
    Leung, C. and Mohan, B. (2004) ‘Teacher formative assessment and talk in classroom contexts: assessment as discourse and assessment of discourse’, Language Testing, 21(3), pp. 336-359.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Josh. Interested in your thoughts on Leung and Mohan. Questioning ‘can be’ great, agreed, but deepen children’s thinking… what does this even mean? Are you referring to strengthening long term memory and therefore the ability to retrieve and apply information?

      With regards to Freeman and Lewis. Aren’t questions in formal tests, thus your point isn’t so much about questioning per se, rather the recording of assessment information?

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