About Lori H Rice

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading as well as kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade since 1996. She has a passion for creativity, learning, questioning and the whole child. Her classroom is a place of acceptance and celebrating differences.

“To every answer, you can find a new questions” –Yiddish Proverb.

It starts when children can talk, “Why?” Sometimes it can seem endless, “What would happen…?” But it is one of the most important tools we can use in a classroom. Teachers  ask questions to engage, motivate, teach, lead, expand, understand and challenge. For such a natural instinct and curious human state, practicing and perfecting questioning is hard work. There are things educators can do, however, to increase this skill which will in turn increases learning and productivity in your classroom.

An easy way to get started is to video tape. Pick a lesson and set up that camera. Spend 3 minutes making crazy faces, waving, “Hi, Mom!” and get it all out of your system. You might even want to let your students do this too. Have the camera set up for a few days without any tape rolling. This will allow your students (and you) to get used to the camera. Then, turn it on and tape a lesson. Late at night, in the privacy of your own home with your after work comfy clothes, your favorite snack and beverage, and a notebook (digital or paper style work well) sit down and watch.

Keep track of who you ask questions to-boys, girls, front of the class, back of the class, or students with their hands up? Keep track of the types of questions you ask– yes no, single answer, lower-level, higher-level.  Keep track of your phrasing-is the answer in the question? Do you rephrase to clarify? Do you ask for explanation? And think about wait time when questioning. Do you wait long enough for students to answer? Do you repeat answers from other students’ removing the need for students to listen to their peers answers? Then, set a goal for yourself. What do you want to do differently?

There are different methods to asking questions. You can ask multiple students the same question. This works well with lower-level, short answer questions. “What did you get for the equation? Johnny? Kylee? Alex? Samantha? Georgia?” “Where do our laws come from? Mark? Beth? Anthony?” This allows more students to be engaged and it also allows those quiet students to find success. Hearing others got the same answer boosts self confidence and allows some students the bravery to answer too. You can ask the same question different ways. “What did you get for the equation? How did you solve the number sentence? What number did you find?”

You can ask students to turn and talk to the neighbor to answer the question. Again, engagement is the purpose here. Be sure everyone is paired up or makes a triad. Wander and ask students who disengage easily. Then ask random students what they discussed with their partner or group. Another strategy is to rephrase question or ask a smaller part of the question. “I don’t know.” Is not an answer in my classroom. When presented with this answer I always say, “That’s OK. What do you know?” We ask students questions to get them to think. IF they think they can get away without answering the question it was all in vain. Think about how questioning engages all learners in your classroom.

Higher level questioning is the most engaging and pushes students to make connections, apply, synthesize and evaluate information. I practice this skill with sticky notes. There are many resources available online with question stems. Use these to think of thought provoking questions before your lesson. Write them down and put them in your lesson, PowerPoint, Doseri desktop or text so you remember to stop and ask higher level questions. A simple way to extend a lower-level question is to use one of these extensions: “How do you know? What did you use to make that connection? What else have we talked about that is similar to this? Which of these is most important? Why?” Higher-level questions are important tools in any classroom.

So now that you have let a few weeks pass, get that video camera back out. Record your lesson again. What have you changed? How has this impacted your teaching? How are your students responding? Where do you need to go next? Whole group lessons are the easiest place to start, but how do you ask questions in small groups or one on one? Watch what you are doing and think about your goal: to help students make connection, learn the information, and be able to apply this to their lives. These strategies allow students to retain information and extend their learning. The types of questions you ask will impact your students learning and engage them in your classroom. Any questions?

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