An Approach for Developing and Implementing Questioning Techniques

Looking for an introductory post on questioning? See this post!

I recently came upon this resource for questioning: http://faculty.ntcc.edu/apt/module8.html. Be sure to take a gander, as I found it to be valuable in providing me with some guidance in being effective in questioning.

To summarize some of the strategies outlined in this resource…

  • Ask Divergent Questions: Divergent question’s have many possible answers. For example, “What are some possible ways to solve the problem of poverty?”
  • Promote discussion amongst students: Paraphrase and draw in other students.
  • Wait 6 to 8 seconds before calling on a student for a response.
  • “Spontaneous questions that come up during class time are helpful but questions that are thinking skill-builders usually require more thoughtful pre- planning and structuring.”
  • Paraphrase answers back to students.

Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

So how do we translate this summary into an actionable process? Well, I’ve deducted some steps from my own experience as a teacher. Read on for the steps and a personal example.

Step 1: Identify When to Create Questions and for what Learning Tasks

As mentioned in the resource, “questions that are thinking skill builders usually require more thoughtful pre-planning and structuring.” When should you create the questions that will encourage your students to think deeply? Typically this is done when the lesson plans are created in the curriculum development process. Were you handed lesson plans? Update it with questioning techniques where appropriate.

Looking at the lesson plan, the educator decides upon the types of questions to ask for particular learning tasks. For example, a divergent question may not be ideal for the knowledge stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy (discussed here previously) for a course concept. Sometimes questions may come naturally to the educator outside of the lesson plan. This is wonderful and organic as it draws from the educator’s experience with timing. See the other post for question ques for different levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Step 2: Pose your questions in Class

Following your lesson plan (feel free to be organic), pose your question. As per the advice of the article, wait 6 to 8 seconds before calling on a student to respond. This allows them time to identify what you are asking, and to gather their thoughts. The silence can be difficult for an educator. I often feel the urge to provide a number of “correct” answers. However, after waiting 6 to 8 seconds, I now say, “Any guesses?” or “There isn’t a wrong answer!” I find that this has been quite successful with my learners as then there is less anxiety in participating.

Step 3: Promote Discussion amongst your Students

Once a student has piped up, draw other students into the discussion. You can for instance ask another student, “What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with what __________ is saying?” Then further probe. Ensure that once students have answered, that you demonstrate that you’ve understood them by paraphrasing what they have said. This is especially important as validation is a key characteristic to adult learners (discussed previously in this post).

Step 4: Review

For more involved questions, you may review all the input students have provided. This aids with retention, and also gives a complete picture of what was discussed. This review could be led by students if you wish to incorporate active learning.

An Example of the Approach

I’ve used this approach to create divergent questions as I typically am more organic and impulsive with questions on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I first went through my lesson plans and identified learning tasks where divergent questions would be appropriate. For instance, in online surveys (the subject matter of my classes), students have the ability to allow respondents to go back to previous questions. Alternatively, they may decide to not allow this at all. I write in my lesson plan to pose the question: “Would you allow respondents to go back to previous questions in your survey?” There isn’t truly a wrong answer to this question.

Students typically answer this question in three ways: 1) No, I wouldn’t allow it, and 2) Yes, I would allow it, and 3) I would allow it for only some questions. For whichever answer a student chooses, I would then encourage the discussion and ask why. I would then ask if there was a student that thought otherwise and their reasoning.

If there isn’t a student that identifies an alternative perspective, I may introduce one and fuel the discussion. For instance, let’s say a student answered my question with, “Yes. you should allow the to go back and change their answer in a previous question on the survey…because what if they made a mistake. This would give you more accurate data because they can correct it.” If other students do not disagree, I may play devil’s advocate and say, “But what if they change their answer to avoid answering MORE survey questions because they figured out the survey logic for skipping. Would “No” be better for accurate data?” This discussion can go on for awhile as there are many benefits and challenges with each possible answer.

At the end of this activity, I then conduct a review. I prefer that students lead this. I divide students up in groups to represent one of the possible answers to the divergent question and ask each camp to summarize what it is we have discovered with each possible answer.

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Introverted Students, Positive Learning Environments, and Classroom Management

This journal entry gives insights on introverted students. How do we create a positive learning environment for them? How do we manage the classroom so that they are included and recognized? After completing this entry, I actually found an additional related resource that would be worth visiting: http://www.transformativeclassroom.com/more.php?axi

Objective

“In the Ted Talks video,(http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html), Susan Cain shares her insight on introversion. Here’s the summary from the Ted Talks website:

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Cain discusses how school and work environments are geared towards stimulating extroverts, and ignore the low-key stimulation that introverts need.

Here’s the full video:

Reflective

Upon watching the video above, I thought, “Oh, thank goodness! Someone has finally said it!”

Interpretive

Much like Cain, I am more introverted, and have felt the pressures to be more extroverted. For instance, once upon a time, I was once in an impromptu meeting with senior executives to discuss the development of a training program. After the meeting, I emailed them some additional thoughts I had on what was said. Their reply was a professional scolding for not sharing these thoughts during the meeting. The senior executives used negative reinforcement to promote extroversion when I felt that I should have been given positive feedback for further exploring the ideas in a deeper manner– a natural activity for an introvert.

I didn’t always identify myself as an introvert. For a long time, I was in denial about this characteristic. This denial came from my need to be accepted in a society that values extroverts. I did everything I could to be a social and personable individual and ignored the uncomfortable feeling of being in a high-stimulation environment.

Because of the pressures to be extroverted, I chose to study Marketing and Communication in university. I thought that if I were surrounded by extroverts (typical of the Marketing and Communication disciplines) that I would somehow transform into a social butterfly. I also thought that I could become an outgoing individual if I studied these disciplines because the subject matter was about about interacting with the public and strangers.

When I obtained my degree, and started my career, I ended up being an educator (software trainer). The pressure to build rapport with strangers (i.e. my clients/learners) was so great that I had gone as far as Googling, “how to make small talk”. I suppose this search itself demonstrates how much of an introvert I am — engaging in research and deep thought ABOUT socializing versus taking the more extroverted approach and heading into a crowd and thriving from the energy and potential experience.

I believe at this point I realized that I was more of an introvert than an extrovert. The evidence was surmounting:

  • I prefer individual activities in my free time like reading, knitting, running, and yoga.
  • I find that I am mentally exhausted after socializing. Even being around large crowds of people is tiresome.
  • I find high-stimulation environments distracting.
  • I tend not to ask others about themselves as I feel that I would be intruding.

Now that I’ve watched Cain’s talk and have recognized the pressures that society has put on introverts, I feel the need to modify my teaching approach to create a positive learning environment that fosters both extroverts and introverts.

Currently, in my training sessions, introverted students are pressured to be extroverted in order to be considered good performers. All class activities are collaborative in nature. There are no activities where learners are independent (unless you get a session with one student). In the sessions, the trainers are constantly passing mouse control to students and facilitating group discussions.

Decisional

In creating a balanced menu of learning activities, my department will need to adopt and create tasks that stimulate introverts and extroverts. For example, we could pose a discussion question for learners to take with them to think about outside of the training session. In the next session, we would have students communicate their findings. The chance to reflect and think critically outside of class would satisfy the yearning of introverts to engage in deep thought, and the presentation of information in the following session would satisfy the stimulation that extroverts need. This is just one example. I feel my training team will need an arsenal of these activities. I will set up a brainstorming meeting. (By the way, I like how these journals give me so many great ideas for my team. My team members are often excited when I let them know my findings from these entries.)

However, what I should point out is that no individual is completely introverted or completely extroverted. So likely, these activities would not cause severe cases of anxiety in students.

Another action item would be to create a pre-course quiz that would actually let students know if they are more on the introverted or extroverted side. I know that many assume they are more of one over the other, but sometimes these results can be surprising. This information can be revealing because students who are actually more introverted may discover that they are actually behaving like extroverts because of societal pressures (which can be stressful for introverts). This can provide them with insight about how they learn best and give them a sense of ownership in helping the trainers mold the session to their needs. This empowers students to learn the way they want – which is an intrinsic motivator.

I am not a teacher, but a…

I am not a teacher, but an awakener.

– Robert Frost

Classroom Management & Adult Education

What is Classroom Management?

Classroom Management is “the process of ensuring that classroom lessons run smoothly despite disruptive behavior by students. The term also implies the prevention of disruptive behavior.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classroom_management)

Disruptive behaviour from one student distracts the focus of other students. It negatively impacts learning.

Examples of Disruptive Behaviour

Here are examples of disruptive behaviour that I’ve seen from students:

  • Being late for class
  • Distracted by their mobile devices
  • Chatting amongst themselves
  • Interrupting the educator or other students

Before you move onto the next section, think about how you would handle these situations.

Strategies & Tactics for Managing Disruptions

The following resource provides an excellent table for handling disruptions.

http://www.4faculty.org/includes/108r2.jsp

To summarize, it looks at disruptions like the undermining of the instructor’s authority, leaving class too frequently, spacing out, cellphone distractions, monopolizing discussions, etc. We’ll be exploring these further in detail (relating it back to my training experience in later posts)

The solutions in the table encourage educators to recognize students as human beings, and to understand the behaviour at a deeper level. Read on for an example. I’ve taken a real life experience and have demonstrated how the solution is applied in such a scenario.

An Real-Life Example of Classroom Management

Here’s a classroom management situation that I’ve been in before. In one of my classes, I had a student who constantly interrupted me, asking about course content that would be discussed in later sessions or interjecting with how his own experiences related to the course content.

In managing this, I took the following steps:

  • Assess the source of this behaviour: For instance, is the student angry, excited, anxious? In my case, I could sense the student’s excitement. I also wasn’t afraid to ask the student questions about the current course materials to assess his feelings. For instance, at the end of the class, I may ask, “How did you feel about the course content we covered today?”
  • Validate the student: Show appreciation for their excitement. Let’s be real here, excited students are a gem. In my case, I told the student, “I’m really loving your energy and enthusiasm! It’s refreshing to see someone so gung-ho about what this software tool can do for them!”
  • Take action to correct the behaviour: This does not necessarily mean that we sit down and have a serious one-on-one talk to the student. There are soft approaches that can prove to be effective. In my case, I took better care to go back to the Course Agenda (where all the topics are laid out) to show what was covered and where we were going. I also devoted some time to explaining why the information was laid out this way. This was enough to correct the behaviour. I also adopted this technique in future classes as a preventative measure. As mentioned earlier, classroom management is about preventing disruptive behaviour as much as it is addressing it during class. I also ensured to incorporate more activities that would be an opportunity for the student to share his experiences and how it relates to the course.

What happens if that wasn’t enough and the student continued to display the disruptive behaviour? I would incorporate more strategies that allowed the student to become the expert on the knowledge. This would provide them with a deeper understanding of why the course content is laid out in the way it is. The Jigsaw Strategy comes to mind. This strategy would also allow the student to incorporate his experiences as example as an approach to teaching it to his jigsaw group. See this post about the Jigsaw Instructional Strategy.

So how did this match up with the table given in the resource in the previous section? In the table, it suggests in handling the student, we should do the following:

Many students are excited and talkative so it might be good to give them a few class periods to settle in. However, if it’s evident right away that this is a trend, it’s best to ask them to stay after class. You might approach them initially by saying that you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class members equally involved. The student will most likely get your drift with minimal humiliation.

From this resource, it’s evident that I should also wait to see if the behaviour continues before addressing it. However, I feel preventative action can always be taken to ensure the class runs smoothly. Thus, I can still show the agenda more frequently and be more open about how the course I laid out. I also like the idea of asking the disruptive student to help in getting other students involved. This is using a very clever instructional strategy to promote active learning.

Looking for more posts about Classroom Management? Click the category in the sidebar! As well, be sure to check out the Resources menu (specifically, Other Resources) for more Classroom management resources.

Classroom Management – What is it?

Elaborate in the comments section!

Food for Thought!

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Socrates

Active Learning and Technology – Compounding Technology on Virtual Training Technology

Objective

In the article, “How Technology keeps a 3000-Student Class engaged” (http://www.good.is/post/how-technology-helps-keep-this-3-000-student-class-engaged/), John Boyer successfully uses technology to engage his class of 3000 students in active learning. For instance, Skype interviews with guest speakers, announcing online quizzes only on Facebook and Twitter, etc. This is blended into his physical classroom.

Technology is moving the world into a Global Village paradigm.
Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Reflective

Upon reading the article, my reaction was, “I agree that technology can definitely create opportunities for active learning and engagement…but I am cautious. Can I use the technology in my virtual classroom in the same way that Boyer does in his physical classroom?”

Interpretive

Currently, technology is what’s holding my virtual classroom together. My department uses Webex technology and VOIP conference lines to share computer screens and conduct training sessions about market research technology. This has already closed the physical space between clients and my trainers in entirely different countries. For example, clients in Australia do not need to fly to our office in Vancouver to be trained or vice versa.

But what about using Skype for guest speakers? My company does host virtual webcasts using a tool similar to Skype providing discussion sessions similar to the interviews that Boyer incorporates into his classes. In these webcasts, an expert from another department in my company discusses tips and tricks for better research online. This is something the expert does outside of his/her daily operations at the company. As well, these do not happen during class time but at a scheduled time once a month and is accessible by all our clients – past learners, and current learners. They are also recorded in case our clients/learners are not able to attend at the scheduled time. This technology has enabled one expert to communicate to hundreds of learners in different cities and countries. This is slightly different from Boyer’s approach of having a guest speaker Skype in during class, but it is a better solution for my company as we can have up to eight sets of classes going in a week. If a guest speaker were to show up for all these classes, it would pull them away from their core function at the company which is not ideal. However, one should note that in this case, it isn’t Skype that is inappropriate for my classroom setting, but rather, the instructional strategy of using a guest speaker in class. It isn’t exactly scalable for the hundreds of sessions that we provide every month.

Currently, my company does use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the world with respect to company news, tips and tricks about online research, interesting resources, etc. However, the training department does not use Twitter or Facebook in the way that Boyer does in providing access to online quizzes. If these channels were to be adopted, they would be made private to learners only as my company is very careful about protecting how our products work. I wouldn’t be able to tweet a link to a quiz containing screenshots of our software product as it could easily be shared from one student to a competitor. Any quizzes are best completed during the training session. As well, having more than one Twitter or Facebook account associated with the company can be confusing to our learners as both the corporate account and the training department account would be tweeting resources about online research.

What my interpretations have shown me is that I can’t use the technology in exactly the same way that Boyer does in a virtual setting. However, with modifications, the technology/media can be appropriate for my teaching situation. More about this in the Decisional section.

Decisional

The article has brought to light that not all forms of technology and media are marketed to be educational tools. For instance, John Boyer found a way to make use of Skype in his classroom to enhance the learning experience of his students. Skype was not intended to be an educational tool, but it reminds me, as an educator, to consider new technology/media from a training perspective. I will write about new technology/media that I stumble upon in the department blog and encourage my trainers to do the same.

I’ve also realized that I shouldn’t force technology/media into my classroom just because I work at a technology company and it is expected that I would be a cheerleader for it. More importantly, what should happen is that when considering new technology/media I should identify whether or not it fits the needs of my learners and whether it balances the needs of my employer. I will sit down with my team and we will collaboratively come up with guidelines for analyzing the appropriateness of new technology/media and for adopting these tools.

As well, a tool can be used in more than one way that suits different educational settings. For instance, Boyer found that guest speakers via Skype works for him. Although this would not work too well for my virtual class, I could use Skype to stay connected with students who need to speak with me or my trainers face-to-face outside of class. I will meet with my team to discuss adopting Skype as a tool of communications with clients as soon as we analyze the appropriateness and determine the guidelines for adopting the tool.

With respects to the Twitter and Facebook, rather than setting up an account specific to the training department, the trainers (myself included) should pass on any resources to the Marketing department as they manage the corporate Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Marketing department can post on our behalf. We can then point our learners to one Facebook or Twitter handle rather than two. This reduces redundancy and any confusion.