Questioning in the Classroom

Many of my goals as a teacher revolved about questioning. I wanted to challenge myself and my students to ask and answer more complex questions in the classroom. By asking great questions, I was able to accomplish several goals: I got a firm grasp of what my students understood; I was able to foster interest in learning; I saw which students were willing to push themselves and which individuals were struggling and needed more support. There are many types of questioning techniques. When I first started teaching, I was given a handout on Blooms Taxonomy Questioning Strategies. The easiest questions to ask were the lower level knowledge questions, about remembering facts and basic ideas that had a concrete answer. I found those questions do very little for the reflective teacher or engaged students in the classroom. They don’t encourage students to be motivated to inquire on their own, so I branched out and started asking more in-depth, complex questions to my 6th graders. The results were incredible!

Different questioning strategies changed my classroom chemistry. Lessons were not just instruction, comprehension questions and assessment, but were more focused on critical thinking and reflection. To start this evolution in my classroom, I asked myself: why was I asking those questions; what did I want to get out my students; and what can I do to improve my questioning strategies to solicit the type of student-centered classroom I was striving for. I needed balance: a balance of teacher and student generated questions; a balance of convergent and divergent questions; and a balance of student and teacher participation where the teacher is mostly a facilitator. We needed to make sure our classroom was an engaging environment where everyone could participate freely and safely. During whole-class lessons, I would incorporate divergent, open-ended questions. First, I’d provide thinking time for them to scribble down ideas then they would share within their small groups. After everyone had a chance to share, we would discuss as a class. These always took a longer amount of time than the shorter, more precise explanation questions, but they were worth it.

Questioning became an emphasis for me. I would start whole units of study with essential questions that we would answer as the unit grew. My questions became a focus for planning, rather than just using questioning to “wrap up.” It helped support the critical thinking within our classroom. As Wiggins and McTighe write in Understanding By Design, “A good education is grounded in such lifelong questions, even if we sometimes lose sight of them while focusing on content mastery. The big-idea questions signal that education is not just about learning “the answer” but about learning how to learn,” (p. 108). The discussions from the class were so powerful. I was able to assess many of my students’ understanding of the concepts while listening to them share, evaluate, and constructively critique their peers’ ideas.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” – Albert Einstein

Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.