What’s The Big Idea?

Or…Why do we ask questions?

I ask a lot of questions, mainly because I’d rather look stupid and find something out than stay stupid forever by never finding out, but in my lessons I ask questions for a lot of different reasons…

Identifying Prior Knowledge
I need to know what they know in order to move them forward. It’s a really quick way of pre-testing the class before content delivery. If they already know it I know to move on or deepen the learning. If they struggle too much I know I need to adapt my plan to build the foundations of knowledge they need to advance.

Clarifying Understanding
Do they get it? I know I’ve taught it, or at the very least given them an activity about it but have they learnt it? It’s also important to ask questions to clarify if the answers they give seem vague. A vague answer means that the concept isn’t so much grasped as fumbled.

Finding the Gaps
After the clarity I’m looking for what they don’t know, the small details that will tighten the grasp on their conceptual understanding. Making sure they’ve got the knowledge they need to move their thinking on.

To Elicit Information
This is forcing them to develop, explain and expand their ideas. Anything that makes them flesh out their answers. Questions like…
“What do you mean?”
“Could you describe that?”
“Could you give an example?”
“Could you explain that to me?”
“Imagine I’m stupid, how would you say that to get me to understand?”
Or the classic…”Why?”

Scaffolding Thinking
Helping students to process their thoughts. Using their knowledge with your thinking to guide them through constructing arguments and reasoning. Much like a gondolier nudging the boat towards the jetty. It’s also great to do this as you are modelling the thinking process explicitly to your students, showing them how you think and develop concepts.

Making them think hard. Push their ideas, provide conflict, give alternatives, play Devils Advocate, confuse, obstruct and obfuscate. Isn’t thinking really hard about stuff what school is really for? (Opinions on what school is for may vary; there’s lots of things it could be for.)

To Go Deep
This is when you focus your questions on the BIG themes. Romeo and Juliet isn’t just about a couple of soppy teenagers who wind up dead. It’s about love, it’s about loss, it’s about family and friendship. Unpick the big themes, turn your students into philosophers. What are the important themes lurking beneath the surface of your subject waiting to be discovered?

Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


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