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The importance of Questioning and Discussion

In this post we will discuss exactly what questioning and discussion is, and the importance of them. On its most basic level, questioning relates to the questions asked by the teacher and students during a lesson. It is important that the questions are not only coming from the teacher, but that they are also coming from the students as well.

I’m sure at some point you have been around a child who is constantly asking questions, from why is the sky blue to what is the difference between dogs and cats. Although after about the 100th question, you might be annoyed, it is good that they are asking, it shows that they are inquisitive and want to learn more. This is the same for our students. However, by the age of 14, although they might be thinking of questions, they might not always ask them. Also, as the content gets harder and more complex, the students might ask very basic questions, and not the higher order type of questions that we strive for.

Questions are intended to deepen students’ understanding of a topic. Therefore, if they do not ask questions, or we as teachers do not ask the right questions, students might become lost and not understand the content. This is why it is so important that we not only ask students appropriate questions, but also teach them how to ask us and one another questions. There are many different types of questions that can be used in a variety of settings. However, I have identified four that are most found in a classroom setting; convergent (closed), divergent (open), evaluative and rhetorical.

A convergent or closed question is one that only has one correct answer. For example, if you were to ask when World War One started, the answer would be 1914.

On the other hand, a divergent question is a question that is open ended and can have multiple answers. An example of a divergent question is how might history, and the present be different if WWI never happened?

An evaluative question is one requires both knowledge of the topic and the ability to analyze and synthesize multiple possible answers on a deeper level. An example of an evaluative question could be, should the United States have entered the war?

Finally, there are rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is one that does not necessarily require an answer. It is one that is asked to elicit thinking. An example of a rhetorical question is, can you have peace without war or war without peace?

The purpose of these questions is to elicit student thinking. Whether you are teaching a 6 year old or an 18 year old, you can ask students all four types of questions. The complexity of the questions will differ, however, as long as it is relevant to what they are learning, and they have some context or background knowledge, they should be able to answer the question. Also, some students might be able to answer an evaluative question right away, while others might need several convergent or closed ended questions before they can answer a divergent question. This is OK. As long as you as a teacher are increasing the number and types of questions over time and that they are improving, it is understandable that some might take longer than others. There have been several times when I would have to ask multiple closed ended questions before I could increase the level of questioning to divergent or evaluative. However, by adding a variety of scaffolds and supports, regardless of their cognitive level, students will eventually be able to answer questions that require higher-order thinking. Once you ask the question, or students ask one another a question, they should then engage in a discussion. This is part two of the concept of questioning and discussion. The definition of a discussion is the action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas. Therefore, a discussion is not one question and one answer. It is a combination of questions and answers and responding to one another’s answers. This is key, the response to one another’s questions. Students are great at having discussions about video games, movies and sports. They can argue their points, cite facts and predict what will happen in the future. However, when it comes to school work, this is not always the case. Having effective discussions is imperative because as we grow up, we need to speak with one another on a myriad of topics, many of which we might not have any interest in. However, if students are able to speak to certain points, cite information and build upon or respond to another’s points, they will be able to effectively communicate as adults.

A discussion is one where students are speaking with one another by asking each other questions, answering and responding to one another’s responses. Sometimes the teacher might ask a question to initiate the discussion, however, once the question has been presented, the conversation theoretically can continue without teacher intervention. Asking a variety of types of questions and having effective discussions are essential to student learning. Although it might take some time before you can ask high order questions, teach students how to ask questions or have ongoing and in depth conversations in your classroom.

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