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How Teachers Can Ask Questions That Engage the Whole Class

At one point or another every teacher struggles with these questions: How do I engage all of my students, no matter their skill level or individual learning style? How do I construct curriculum to reach every single one of my students? What practices will help me do that? How can I meet the needs of all of them in such a diverse classroom?

You want your teaching to be relevant to your entire classroom. And since 80% of teaching is asking questions, according to Ed Tech Lens, teachers must ask meaningful questions in innovative ways to engage all of their students.

Traditional Approaches Leave Some Students Behind

A straightforward approach may seem like the most efficient way to enter into dialog with students, using questions like "Who knows the answer to …?" or "Who can tell me …?" But is this a reliable way to engage students and assess their learning?

Unfortunately, this common, straightforward approach asks students to parrot back a simple, pre-scripted answer, favoring those with strong recall skills and alienating others who think and learn differently. It limits student involvement, with only the same few students participating in discussions. And it limits your efficacy as a teacher.

The simple question-answer approach results in inaccurate evaluations of students' learning abilities. Although you may get a snapshot of how those with a good memory are progressing, you are neglecting students who learn more comprehensively or those who engage more deeply when their imaginations are engaged. And, by incorrectly gauging ability, you will make curriculum and teaching decisions based on wrong information. Good questions move beyond memorization and into reflection and activation of understanding, through probing that leads to strategic thinking and analysis. According to an Edutopia article by Millersville University professors Pérsida and Bill Himmele, "A better way to gauge students' understanding is to embed techniques that ensure that all students are engaged and interacting with the content that matters most in any given lesson."

Use a More Innovative Approach to Learning

There is a variety of techniques to help you think more expansively and present ideas in a way that invites student participation.

For the Chalkboard Splash activity, teachers develop open-ended questions, with no single "correct" answer, according to Edutopia. Each question posed should be worded to allow students to craft their own focus and reveal their understanding of the concept and prompt discussion. After the question is posed, students take time to write down their answers. Limiting responses to a general word count keeps the activity moving so students remain engaged. Students then share their answers on the chalk- or white-board. This strategy of questioning gives students time to process their ideas and articulate them before sharing and ensures that all will participate in the response.

In the Appointment Agendas technique, students engage is discussion with each other, one on one, explains Edutopia. Using an agenda or appointment schedule template, students fill each time slot with a different fellow student. Then, when teachers ask questions to be discussed, they specify a time of day and students pair up according to their appointment agenda. If they switch partners and discuss the same question, students are invigorated through movement, a powerful method of engaging them, piquing their interest, and having them share differing ideas and focus. The Appointment Agenda is designed and intended to be used multiple times throughout the semester or year, in any content area.   

The Pause, Star, Rank technique asks students to actively engage with their own notes after a lesson, or series of lessons, has been completed. At an appropriate time, teachers ask students to briefly skim over their notes, marking anything important with a star. Next, the students rank the top three most important items that they have starred. Once they have completed this task, students engage in a Chalkboard Splash or Appointment Agenda to encourage a deeper discussion on the subject.

Learn more about Emporia State University's online Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) – Effective Practitioner PreK-12 program.


Sources:

EdTechLens: How to Engage Students With Well-Designed Questions

Edutopia: 3 Ways to Ask Questions That Engage the Whole Class


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