Questioning as a Pedagogic Tool

6 Dec

A couple of blog posts ago, the discussion turned to using questioning as a tool for learning, which found many supporters. To be honest, I know no other way to learn. Questioning is the most basic of tools that probe and provoke – both essential to stimulate learning nodes.

Even in pure lecture mode it is possible to include the class in a two way process using this simplest of tools. Strategic questioning is a pedagogy that is used extensively in teaching and learning at the nursery and kindergarten levels. A classic methodology of using questioning in the classroom of course is Socratic questioning, a method that teaches critical thinking skills and strengthens the ability of students to build stronger arguments and discussions.

The Socratic questioning methodology identifies six types of questions: clarification, assumptions, evidence, viewpoints, consequences and of course- questions about the question.

Questions of clarification ask the learner to explain themselves, to provide examples or to rephrase. This technique is often used in classrooms to check for understanding of the issues and concepts being discussed.  Questions that probe assumptions seek out weak foundations of arguments. Many ‘facts’ that are handed down to us, or even stated in textbooks are built on embedded assumptions.

A true guide would show their learners how to unpeel these assumptions and be aware of prejudices, stereotypes and choices made when making statements. Others are questions that probe reasons and evidence that ask the learner “How Do you know?” The evidence is questioned, even going so far as to seek alternatives that may change the conclusion at hand. The adequacy of data, its validity and reliability are taught to be questioned.

This is in contrast to Questions about viewpoints or perspectives – where the effects or implications of statements are questioned. This  is a technique commonly seen in primary school textbooks for the current generation where they are encouraged to think up alternative endings, or answer “what could have happened” type of questions. Questions that probe implications and consequences are the mainstay of most classic teaching and assessing tools.

Of course, the question itself is subject to questioning and the last category does just that. The reasons for asking the question and the importance of that particular question.

All the way through schools and higher education, various questioning techniques have supported the learning process – including sessions where it is key to impart knowledge, teach an analytical process or induce reflection on an idea or concept.

Questioning, however, is a skill, honed over years of practice. Like other skills, it is possible to fall into certain patterns after years of practice and re-skilling one-self out of a particular groove takes effort. All the more so, since there are no professional certification or refresher courses in this art. Each teacher uses questions to support different parts of the learning process.

It is a very lazy teacher who does not pause ask probing questions to test understanding as they teach. Without these it is very difficult to receive feedback from the class to ensure that learning is on track. Some types of questions are reserved for the assessment process – questions that test for depth of knowledge and understanding.

Then there are other questions that are used to encourage independent thinking – scaffolding up from the gentle ‘What do you think’ type of question to  more rigourous and provocative questioning. In more confident classes, provocative questioning is a strong technique with a class often becoming a sparring ground and the discussion spilling out of the classroom as learning continues long after that class is over.

Questions are far more powerful than lectures or books, for they unleash the forces of learning. Once a question has crashed through traditional barriers in a learner’s mind the journey of discovering more and more begins. And there is true joy in learning.

This post was published on November 2, 2011 here :


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: