Asking questions is the most common type of interaction that occurs in the classroom. It is so often that as a pedagogical competence, some experts classify asking questions as an instinctive skill. This statement has a point because the skill requires teacher sensitivity. But on the other hand, it also illustrates that we often do it without a clear purpose.
As with all things teachers do, questions should also be student-centered. Do teachers believe in these abilities –to reflect, to construct children’s understanding, to question assumptions, and to have other thinking skills– as one of the primary goals of education? Or instead, teachers believe that children learn through direct instruction that must be controlled and the goal of education is to complete as many knowledge subjects as possible. Only if we agree on the paradigm reflected in the first statement can we agree on the purpose of asking questions; that is to increase curiosity, to engage and enhance students’ thinking processes, and to help teachers check student understanding.
Engaging questions can arise when teachers use situations relevant to students in order to foster interest. Teachers also need to understand the level of student readiness when it comes to the topic being taught. The context of the questions and the appropriate types of challenges can only be posed by teachers who are accustomed to listening and observing students regularly. Planning before teaching and reflection during teaching are key.
Some of the main pitfalls for teachers in asking good questions are often the simple things, such as timing. Many teachers are uncomfortable with “comfortable silence”; allowing students to have some quality time to think before answering questions. Teachers often assume that silence means students are having a hard time and confusion or mistakes can be harmful. No wonder many teachers ask questions and then answer it themselves, whereas learning experience with positive intensity always requires time for absorption and reflection.
Designing student groupings will also greatly affect the effectiveness of the questions. Planning includes the type and level of questions that will be presented to the whole class, to groups of children, certain children, between children, and even ultimately influencing the “self questions” that students ask in their own thinking process. Research shows that the question and answer session during apperception can be conducted more actively in a group of 4 to 6 people.
There are many references that provide technical guidance down to the keywords needed to be used to develop the teacher’s ability to ask questions of various types and levels. However, the main misconception that often hinders teachers progress is usually related to the educational paradigm. For example, the overreliance on order of Bloom’s Taxonomy arises because teachers doubt the ability of lower-grade children to explore higher-order thinking questions, whereas exposure and practice on quality questions that are open, imaginative, analytical, and applicable are an important part of competency development, for any age. Another misconception is related to responses to student questions. Our response can lead to students asking quality questions. Research shows that on average only 1% of students do so in class; thus, it’s definitely an achievement to be celebrated when it happens. But what students need at that time is almost always not an “answer” from the teacher. The teacher’s response can be in the form of reference from others’ point of view who were previously proposed or the teacher’s own thought process while listening to the question. Avoiding direct answers in the form of procedural instructions, especially answers with follow-up questions that are actually rhetorical, is the better response.
So far, questions in almost all classes are still dominated by teacher questions. Study shows that, on average, 60% of class time is filled with teacher questions. In addition to ensuring commitment at the beginning of the school year to only ask quality questions, we need to keep in mind that the end goal is to increase questions by students from within and beyond the classroom, even throughout their life. This habit of asking questions will encourage a love for learning, even after the end of the school year.
Exposure and practice on quality questions that are open, imaginative, analytical, and applicable are an important part of competency development, for any age.