Broadening Understanding

How does effective questioning support student learning?

Lang & Evans (2006) say, “good questioning is not something that works in isolation” (p. 249).  They cite Weiss and Pasley (2004) saying that “teacher questions are crucial in helping students make connections and learn concepts, and that effective questions monitor students’ understanding of new ideas and encourage them to think more deeply” (Lang & Evans, 2006, p. 249).  

Questions test for comprehension.  In the teacher-centered world of Direct Instruction, it is critical to assess comprehension in anticipation of re-teaching areas of uncertainty.  To paraphrase Frank Luntz (2007), it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

Questions can help students integrate the concepts presented, expand upon them, and make connections to other concepts even in other disciplines.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.  How long had there been European settlers in what was to become the United States?  What are the social, economic, and familial implications of a revolution after such a long period as a colony and as an extension of the mother country?  How does that length of time compare to the amount of time the USA has existed as a country subsequent to that?  What else was happening around the world at that time?  What was happening in France and how did the French colonies and French king compare to this English one?  What was happening in Russia, China, and India?  What were the military, diplomatic, and economic implications of the American Revolution for England?  What was the domestic political situation in England and how did this event effect that situation? 

Suddenly, a narrow, American-centered story of the country’s founding becomes part of a tapestry of interconnected events around the world.  Other interesting leads to follow might be the lifestyles and technology of the American Revolution.  How was the news passed, what changes in the American economy were caused by the war, what changes in military technology were spawned in the conflict, and on and on.  What was happening in the world of fine art at this time and what impact might the Revolution have had on fine arts?  Each subject is an opportunity to bring life to other areas of learning; mathematics, science, literature, English language arts, history, fine art, etc.

Direct instruction is the food of education.  Questioning, whether teacher led or in student discussions, is the digestion process whereby the nutrition is made available for use.

Lang, H. R., & Evans, D. N. (2006). Models, Strategies, and Methods for Effective Teaching. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Luntz, F. I. (2007). Words that work: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear. New York, NY: Hyperion.

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