As part of Shelagh Gallagher’s presentation at NAGC 2015, she showed some work her father, James Gallagher, did in recording and coding questions in the classroom.
She demonstrated a chart like this:
It tracks, sentence by sentence:
- Who is speaking: Teacher or Student
- Is it a question or a statement? (Q for question, S for statement)
- Whether the question is a higher-level, evaluative or divergent questions through a circle around the Q.
This simple chart brings some interesting problems to light:
- Teacher rants
- Ping-Pong questioning
- Too many questions at once
Grab a copy of the tool as a PDF
Problem: Teacher Rants
Naturally, there are times where teachers need to talk a lot, but generally, long streams of Ss from the teacher indicate that students have become passive participants. Break up the streak of Ss with some Qs in the teacher row, and that will lead to more marks in the student row.
Problem: Ping-Pong Questioning
A pattern like this might mean that the teacher is asking a question, receiving one response, then moving right along. Or, we might see the situation below, where the teacher appears to be interacting with students one at a time, but they never interact with each other.
An Alternative To Ping-Ponging
In either case, it would be better to see a situation like this, where the teacher asks a question, then there’s a stream of student statements and questions:
When students are talking to each other during a lesson, you’ve got discussion, critical thinking, and multiple points of view.
Problem: Too Many Questions In A Row
Here we’ve got a teacher asking three questions in a row. This is a bad questioning technique! Students will feel overwhelmed and afraid that they’ll answer the wrong question. Teacher questions should come once at a time, with sufficient wait time, and a chance for lots of answers from students.
Of course, this tool doesn’t show other important details:
- Is there sufficient wait time?
- Is there a chance for students to chat together before sharing out (you might add a D for discussion to capture this)?
- Is the teacher asking questions to clarify student responses or asking totally new questions each time?
- Which students are involved: everyone or just the high achievers?
Despite the limitations of this tool, I love how its simplicity focuses attention on certain problems in questioning.
Three Questioning Lessons
So, the three lessons we can learn from this tool are:
- Be aware of long stretches of teacher talk.
- Avoid bouncing back and forth from teacher to student, instead increase student-student interaction.
- Ask just one question at a time.
Give it a try with a clip from your own lesson and see what you come up with. Here’s the questioning tool in PDF format.