Sunday, 6 January 2013


The start of a new term is nearly upon us and I am going in revitalised due to a number of life changes.

One aspect of getting back into the classroom and school environment is to listen to the great array of questions, challenges and responses I'll hear and be involved in. I love questioning and the potential depth to thinking it can generate. However far to often including in my own practice I prevent opportunities for taking the thinking deeper by posing a new challenge, problem to keep that engaging thrust of something new flowing in the room. This is good a trigger but like a gun firing the trigger too often at the same target can lead to the death of something. In this case deep thinking that challenges students.

So how about a strategy. Well my preferred method if you look at the pictures is Socratic questioning. I made a simple model which shows a possible method to students thinking about a question deeply and as a result using a whole multitude of other questions to come to an answer or perhaps a new aim to test by questioning the question and generating a new core question.

I've provided a series of pictures of a set of cards my school has provided that help provide a starting point for each of the stages of Socratic questioning so that the metaphorical ball can start rolling and as in a rolling snowball down a snow filled slope the momentum building and the ball - thinking expanding:)

So what are the question Socratic circle questioning poses?

It is a 6 step process:

• clarify
• challenge assumption
• evidence for argument
• viewpoints and perspectives
• implications and consequences
• question the question

By getting students to explore this process they are thinking about that impulsive answer try give. Have you ever had that moment as a teacher where you ask a student "why did you give that answer?" and you get back a shrug of the shoulders or a "urghh I don't know!" How many of us commit the cardinal sin of not even asking that question?

Questioning is crucial it allows me to go through the teaching process of acknowledging what learning and the depth of it and more importantly the opportunity of identifying this with ALL students in class. Therefore a process that takes more than a second is benefit to me as it allows me to lap the room listening to every table and a large majority of students if not all their use of questioning. I find using Classdojo has helped me identify this as I highlight each student on my iPhone as I lap as I hear them using questioning. If I haven't heard a student I identify this on my mobile device and I will go up to listen to them and ask them a question or two about so that I a have at least acknowledged everyone in class. This sounds like it takes a long time but give it a go and you'll be amazed at what you can pick up about a student/your class by lapping. It allows you to stop the class when you hear amazing thinking going on by handing the role of tutor to a student to tell the rest of the class. This can give them confidence, worth and aid others in your class to focus on something specific or think along a different avenue than they would otherwise have done.

This opens up another can of learning worms or threads as Socratic circle questioning in my view works best in pairs or as a table of 4 to allow the process to be deeper by allowing more viewpoints to be explored, implications, reasons, evidence etc. but more importantly I allows students to communicate and use literacy skills. Talking and listening especially with questioning allow students to use specific language and learn the powers of communication. These skills are very high for employers as let's face it a large majority of jobs involve an interview of talking and listening! So students thinking and interacting to learn from each other and extract information to make acknowledgments to help solve a problem are crucial life skills.

So look at the model picture for socratic questioning and give it go following the step by step process. Look at the cards and have a go yourself at planning it into a lesson or two next week it is a great strategy for developing progression of thinking.

Doing this every single lesson could develop learning boredom and throughout the years I have tried to plan the use of varied questioning into my lessons to keep the students intrigued as to what they'll expect next lesson. But at times it can be difficult to trace these questions.

This was where I worked on a question matrix I had seen. The main thought process of this for me was for me to clearly identify question threads I had use with a specific class and student and as a result I could personalise questions for them and then the process would be taken away from me and the student command it by personalising their own questions.

Each student has a question matrix in the back of their book and as try use a question thread from it they mark it off. On class learning walks I can sit o a I prefer to do kneel so I'm level with the students and get them to run me through questions they have used in their book and the matrix and the student from it identifies question styles they are effective at answering and those that they may not be. They then plan the next sequence o questions that they'll work on. The role for me is to monitor students question use and effectiveness and also to help make sure throughout the year they are using all threads and have made progress in the use of each question type. I have found it the most brilliant form of simple personalised planning for ALL students.

The matrix has another clear process. It allows students to plan progressively deeper thinking questions into a lesson or a project. So their learning follows a path. A self developed strategy to move down the matrix and further to the right.

This isn't to say that the questions at the top left aren't important. In fact far from it but these are what I refer to as closed or hinge point questions. They have a set answer. This could be a date or a landform name, a type of plate boundary that is important to get right as if not they could get the whole process wrongly linked to a specific location and so the effects, solutions may not be valid.

These questions are often I effectively used in lessons and can become a ping pong question between a teacher and one single student. What is the plate margin type that splits Iceland? Students put hand up teacher asks one student they answer constructive. Yes right and move on! What about the others in the class? What do they think? These questions could go around a table via the PPPB method. Pose the question, Pause for thinking time - I always think about what I will cook for dinner, let students discuss. I get the Pounce bit by saying ones on the table give your answer to the table am Bounce it to number 3 - I think it is x what do you think? So a quick Kagan strategy helps each table discuss and listen to thinking.

So I have mentioned a few strategies so far that I use in class socratic, matrix and PPPB, and there are many more.

One type that I love to implement involves TV quiz shows. Programmes like 'Pointless', Going For Gold, Blockbusters etc these have a slick style to them that keeps me and many others entertained when I get in on a night. But they work really well in class and can allow students to create and think deeply about answers that they have researched. Take Pointless it involves trying to find answers that few others will have known. This is a great concept to use in the classroom or as a research task. Find some information that is of use to a question posed as an Objective and allow students to question whether other people will have researched the same fact etc. it has led to some very interesting and extremely wide ranging points made in circle time discussions. It has engaged the students to think deep! Each student can then add their point to the question wall via a post it note or write it on the windows and allow time for other students to see if they can connect the point made to a specific aspect if they can it isn't pointless and the student(s) who found it get rewarded but if no one in the class can that student or group have a Pointless answer and so get rewarded. Also it is opportunity for me to look at the puzzled question wall where if a student or group have any issues the post it there and I can help or ask the class if anyone knows the answer or how to help and give them the responsibility of becoming tutor.

Later into a lesson or a project a. Student or group may finish the process. I don't say well done have a break far from it they take over role of tutor and become question monitors. Each will have a different focus on what they are managers of and try will go round with an iPad or my iPhone with Classdojo and give students points based on the discussions they have as they monitor the class. They can help solve issues as they have developedan effective strategy in the lesson (I check what thy have done first asking evaluative questions where the student traces their learning path and reflects on what they discovered etc) they then go and pass that strategy on as well hoeing their work off.

I briefly above linked the TV show question style with Objective questions. These are incredibly powerful and when constructed using solo taxonomy or blooms taxonomy allow students to clearly identify the skill the question involves and the ultimate learning purpose to the lesson to keep them focussed on the specific learning you are wanting to assess them on. The students will see the question and then have to question themselves or their group on how they will answer the question. What intelligence will they use? Musical in a song a music video, linguistically via a radio news report etc. students have a blooms wheel in their books that they spin or point to if they glued it in. This is the strategy they will use to solve this objective question. But why that method over another? Always questioning the question and questioning the learning method. I prefer for students to use their strengths at the start of the year so I can identify G&T students but also so I can identify possible strategies for stretch and challenge for ALL students and how we'll go about personalising those in our mini one on ones as I lap the room. Then throughout the year students underline what they have used so we have another audit system to check how thy are learning and going about solving problems and identifying strategies they haven't used and so could employ in the coming lessons. Why haven't you used that method? Have you seen or heard someone who has? You have! Have you asked them how they use it? No. Ask them I'm positive they'll do a great job in explaining it to you for you to attempt it as well. This extends the learning experience in my classroom where students are taking control and becoming self managers, reflectors, and more importantly planners for the future so they are planning their learning development and can identify what they have done, what they know to have gone well, what they need work on etc. Great for telling parents when they get home and me:)

I have started to lose track in my mind of what I have identified as questioning methods in my classroom. Actually I roughly know but that isn't really good enough! I need a rock solid plan so I KNOW! This reduces the risk of what has happened to me on many occasions where a class leave the lesson and a minute later I curse myself thinking ahhh we didn't get to that or I should have asked that etc...

I saw on twitter the great 5 minute lesson plan create by Ross McGill. I love using it as it is quick! But it got me thinking. Why not create a 5 minute questioning plan that quite easily can be used over a week or a project! So I did. As you can see in the picture it uses all of the questioning methods I have identified. The Columbo style is simply for the end of lessons or projects as summary questions to check are we at the end of the questioning process where we have the answer. This plan has really helped my focus to topics and lessons and means I am thorough. Students get a copy on their table or I print one off and put it on the door or the whiteboard for all to see. I have even started putting blanks on tables where students add their own and I use these for reflection of the lesson and as an evaluation for how I could adopt the main questions got another class or for next year. A very effective planning tool and once again it is handing over responsibility and command of the learning to the students where they feel empowered and wanted in that lesson 50 minutes:)

Give it a go and I'm sure it will strengthen questioning in your lesson and allow your students to stretch and challenge their thinking.

Questioning powerful or not? Let me know what you find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment