Questioning … the art of encouraging thinking

Often teachers feel overwhelmed at the thought of trying to meet the needs of all the different students in their classroom. They think they have to have 26 different plans – one for each child in the class. I don’t think even our super-human teachers could carry that on for too long.

The ministry wants us to personalise the learning for each of the students. Please don’t take this to mean individual curriculums – but more to make the learning involve the learner in a more personal way. When we get to know our students, we can often think of really specific questions that will interest an individual. Usually it is when we can relate the topic of discussion to a particular interest of the student. E.g. talking about global warming with questions about how vehicle emissions affect it could possibly interest the ‘boys in the back row’ far more than deforestation issues. Especially if you bring up the responsibility of all of us to limit the expulsion of unhealthy exhaust fumes into our cities.

I find it really helpful to have Bloom’s Taxonomy question starters visible in the classroom so that I can get prompts for questions from the various levels dependent on who I am asking. Basic comprehension can satisfy an average student, but the gifted usually want to think about things in greater depth. Asking these students to analyse or synthesise the facts will stretch their minds in far more challenging ways.

If you are not quick at thinking on your feet, you may have to prepare yourselves by brainstorming the sorts of questions beforehand. Get alongside some others on your staff who can think creatively. Ask for their cooperative input. We are not all born creative – but if we are creative, perhaps we could think of creative ways to help our colleagues meet the needs of each of their students.

It could be frustrating to an average student, but I love to answer the gifted’s questions with another question. Somehow it continues their thinking into a topic to a deeper level. An answer can be such a conversation stopper!

Wait time is critical to give our students time to really think about the question. I promote the value of asking all students to think of others, and refrain from shouting out an answer before others have had a chance to process their thoughts. I tell them they are simply stealing the opportunity from others, who may still not be ready to contribute. You may have to have alternative activities for the quick thinkers to do while they wait – but this can be as simple as an ideas notebook they bring to the mat, and writing, drawing, or designing something related to the question as they wait. I have seen this work so well during higher level reading groups, who have to give all people in the group time to finish reading the section of book before they can start discussing it.

Think of questions before you need them – anticipate what out-there comments might develop in your discussions. Remember to be a good Girl Guide (or Boy Scout) and Be Prepared!