Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time for a Pause

As I'm preparing for the Making the PYP Happen workshop in Paris (which is now less than 2 weeks away - yikes!), I've been thinking about the power of good questioning techniques.  I've been reading an excellent article entitled Motivating Through Good Questioning Techniques and Response Behaviour - though try as I might I can't seem to find who wrote this (I just have a typed out version of it).  There are many great suggestions for effective questions, but one of the most important things I've been reading is about the importance of pausing.

Often teachers have very little wait time between asking a question and calling on a student to answer it, and this limits the type of students who can respond to it.   Pausing for longer - even longer than 5 seconds - will allow more students to participate as they can think about their answer more carefully and have the time to gain confidence that their response is worth listening to.  Research has shown that in a classroom where there are short pauses, only a few quick-thinking students dominate and the answers are low-level, whereas in a classroom where teachers pause for longer, students are able to hear the questions, think about them and formulate a meaningful response.  What happens in this situation is that the length of the students' responses increases, that weaker students contribute more, there is more variety of student responses and that the responses are more creative.

It's important to pause after students have responded to the question too.  Oftentimes a teacher will say "good" and move on.  However this doesn't give the other students time to comprehend the response and decide if they agree or disagree with it.  Sometimes a teacher will repeat the answer the student gave, perhaps rephrasing it.  Again this is not very helpful as it tells students that the teacher has the "right" answer and that they should listen to the "teacher talk" and not the "student talk", which in turn discourages students from listening to or talking to each other.  In addition judging an answer as good is telling students that the answer given is the only one needed, and there is no need for further thinking on the matter.  If the teacher is non-judgemental when accepting answers, it gives the students the freedom to continue to think and to decide if they agree of disagree with the answer that has been given.

Another "pausing" technique is to follow up the answers given with the question "why?".  This helps students who didn't know the answer to the first question to find out how the answer was reached.  Another way I've noticed of involving more students is to ask the rest of the class "do you agree?"  This is especially important when a student has answered incorrectly - you don't want to discourage that student, but you hope that through further dialogue he or she may come to revise his or her initial response.

The best questions, of course, are probably those where there is no single right answer.  The motivation behind these questions is to provoke a discussion which leads to greater understanding on behalf of all.  Both students and teachers need to pause, to really listen, to formulate their thinking, and then to respond.

Photo Credit:  Who's pushing your buttons? by Krikit  Attribution 

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