• Paul Wade

Questions Types and How They Work

Welcome back, Home Learners. Today, Helpful Hints is brought to you by yogurt-coated mandarin segments and sunshine.

Today we are focusing on the sort of questions teachers and you should be asking to make the most of your child’s learning.

Going back to the last post about no hands up, you may recall the mention of the use of more challenging questions, rather than those with one word answers, as a preferred way to enhance children’s learning. There wasn’t too much detail, to avoid distracting from the main topic, but the topic of questions really needs a follow up.

In the classroom, there are a number of types of questions that can be asked.

Simple yes/no questions, such as “Has everyone got their ruler?” or “Are you ready to come back to the carpet now?” or “You are wriggling quite a lot, do you need to go to the toilet – oh, you did…”. These are used frequently and keep the classroom ticking over. They are rarely planned as part of the learning process and do not generally challenge children intellectually. This does not mean that they should be avoided, but they absolutely should not be the only sort of questions asked.

Next up, we have single word or limited response questions. These might include “What is seven times five?”, “How do you spell ‘amazingly’?” or “Which material floated to the top first?” These are, again, part of the everyday classroom routine, but again they do not offer much in the way of intellectual challenge and should not be the only sort of questions asked. In fact, they should be used very sparingly and only used to target students whose learning the teacher need to interrogate quickly and efficiently. The answers given will not develop the learning of individual students very much (they either do or don’t know the answer) and certainly will not develop the learning of other students (they either already knew the answer or don’t know how the child who got it right did know the answer). They might lead into other learning, but they should only be a small part of the teacher’s and home learning parent’s question repertoire.

Then there are analysis questions. “Why does the character scream in terror?” “How do we know that you have to divide this number and not multiply it?” or “What made you choose yellow to mix into the red for your sunset painting?” They ask children to analyse a problem, based on the information that they have already learned and explain their decision making. These really need to be the majority of questions that teachers and home learning adults need to be asking. They benefit greatly from talk for learning opportunities and will really make children think. Best of all, when answers are shared, they help everyone to learn.

Finally, you have thought development or synthesis questions. These might include “What do you think made this object sink faster?”, “How could try to we solve this problem?” or “Tell me some of your ideas about the story?” They require children to synthesise their own ideas, push learning on and challenge thinking to go to another level. These questions should be used more than single answer questions, but not quite as much as analysis-style questions. They do take time and need really high quality talk for learning to be effective. Used well, however, they provide great learning opportunities, make learning more enjoyable and let teachers really assess what has been learned. Best of all, there no right or wrong answers for children to worry about.

So that’s a quick look at the sort of questions that teachers and home learning parents need to be asking to get the most out of learning. If stuck, the rules of thumb are:

  • Short answers are fine, but more is better

  • How? Why? and What makes you think…? questions are preferable

  • Getting children to explain and come up with their own ideas is great

  • Talk for learning is vital to getting better answers

Getting it right also means that your child does not need to be answering all the questions in class and during online lessons in order to be learning lots. Hearing others explain their answers and taking part in talk for learning are actually better for their progress and development than ‘being right’. All of which helps reduce worry that they are not apparently taking an active enough part in lessons.

Tomorrow a thorny one – When should you contact the teacher directly?Until then, happy, sunny home learning everybody!

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