X to the Power of Question
As part of my recent action research project , I am trying to analyse the levels of control which are present in my job as a teacher trainer. The last couple of weeks I have been focussing on teaching practice preparation sessions by making notes on how I go about prepping a couple of the trainees I’ve been working with. This has brought me back to some action research I did last year on the power of questions. Back then, I was focussing on my use of questions with learners, but there are many parallels to be drawn between the teacher and the teacher trainer.
Just as we can open up communicative channels with our learners by asking questions which encourage longer answers or developed arguments (which is of course a feature of the more communicative classroom, and especially the unplugged one), so can we aid the evaluative and developmental thought processes in our trainees.
There are two types of question often employed in the classroom -
“Display questions [which] ask the respondent to provide, or to display knowledge of, information already known by the questioner, [and] referential questions [which] request information not known by the questioner.“ (Brock, 1986:48)
For example –
Display: “What’s the past participle of ‘see’?”
Referential: “What did you do after that?”
Brock goes on to explain that display questions are placed at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, whilst, unsurprisingly, referential questions are at the highest level, because they often require evaluation or judgement.
I have noticed that I use a range of question forms in my teaching practice preparation sessions, but that when I am under time pressure (as is normal…!) I am prone to use questions like this:
“So are you planning to do this as a jigsaw reading or are they all reading the same text?”
This gives the trainee only two options, and I am sure my tone of voice indicates which one I think is the better of the two. I would say this sits about half way up Bloom’s model at the Application level.
Now, it could be worse – I could not ask a question at all and say:
“Do this as a jigsaw reading.”
Naturally, there are times when this is needed, for example nearer the beginning of the course or when a trainee doesn’t know/isn’t able to come up with ideas. However, I would argue that it is my responsibility to be helping the trainees become as independent as possible.
To do this, I therefore need to ask more questions like this:
“How are you going to use this in class?”
And this is what I began to do consistently, attempting as much as possible not to ask any closed questions. It was interesting to see how the trainees responded by appearing to feel a closer bond to “their” ideas and being much more creative, evaluative and confident in their lesson planning and execution.
Just as I ask my trainees to think about their language in the English classroom, I am now expecting the same of myself, and thereby reaping the rewards of creating more empowered teachers and yet again learning more about my own behaviour.
Have you ever thought about your use of questions in class? Do you think there’s a place for display questions? Would you say that I should be telling my trainees what to do? Would love to hear your thoughts!
Brock. C.A, 1986, The Effects of Referential Questions on ESL Classroom Discourse, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 47-59