More on Questioning Techniques
Asking good questions motivate reflection, inquiry and create interest to further research.
The good or essential questions have several common characteristics, including:
- relevance to the learner
- open-ended and higher-order (have no right or wrong answer)
- answers are not already known
- multiple possible answers
- not too personal
- cannot be answered without careful and lengthy research—answers have to be more than simple facts
- able to be researched given the available resources—must be answerable
- make learners question their basic assumptions
- promote further inquiry
Harvey, S. and Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action. Heinemann Educational
As educators we can enhance our questions to create higher level thinking.
Listed are some questioning techniques in a classroom environment.
1. Pose the question first, before asking a student to respond.
2. Allow plenty of “think time” by waiting at least 7-10 seconds before expecting students to respond.
3. Make sure you give all students the opportunity to respond rather than relying on volunteers.
4. Hold students accountable by expecting, requiring and facilitating their participation and contributions.
5. Establish a safe atmosphere for risk taking by guiding students in the process of learning from their mistakes.
The Spirit and Principles of Socratic Questioning
While there are numerous ways in which Socratic Questioning can be effectively executed in the classroom, there are a set of principles, which guide a Socratic dialog. In this section, these principles are laid out in the form of directives.
Teachers Engaged in a Socratic Dialog Should:
- Respond to all answers with a further question (that calls upon the respondent to develop his/her thinking in a fuller and deeper way)
- Seek to understand–where possible–the ultimate foundations for what is said or believed and follow the implications of those foundations through further questions
- Treat all assertions as a connecting point to further thoughts
- Treat all thoughts as in need of development
- Recognize that any thought can only exist fully in a network of connected thoughts. Stimulate students — through your questions — to pursue those connections
- Recognize that all questions presuppose prior questions and all thinking presupposes prior thinking. When raising questions, be open to the questions they presuppose. (See the section on logically-prior questions.)
Teachers engaged in Socratic dialog should systematically raise questions based on the following recognitions and assumptions:
Focusing on The Elements of Thought
- Recognize that all thought reflects an agenda. Assume that you do not fully understand the thought until you understand the agenda behind it. (What are you trying to accomplish in saying this? What is your central aim in this line of thought?)
- Recognize that all thoughts presuppose an information base. Assume that you do not fully understand the thought until you understand the background information that supports or informs it. (What information are you basing that comment on? What experience convinced you of this? How do we know this information is accurate?)
- Recognize that all thought requires the making of inferences, the drawing of conclusions, the creation of meaning. Assume that you do not fully understand a thought until you understand the inferences that have shaped it. (How did you reach that conclusion? Could you explain your reasoning? Is there an alternative plausible conclusion?)
- Recognize that all thought involves the application of concepts. Assume that you do not fully understand a thought until you understand the concepts that define and shape it. (What is the main idea you are putting forth? Could you explain that idea?)
- Recognize that all thought rests upon other thoughts (which are taken for granted or assumed). Assume that you do not fully understand a thought until you understand what it takes for granted. (What exactly are you taking for granted here? Why are you assuming that?)
- Recognize that all thought is headed in a direction. It not only rests upon something (assumptions), it is also going somewhere (implications and consequences). Assume that you do not fully understand a thought unless you know the implications and consequences that follow from it. (What are you implying when you say that? Are you implying that . . . ?)
- Recognize that all thought takes place within a point of view or frame of reference. Assume that you do not fully understand a thought until you understand the point of view or frame of reference which places it on an intellectual map. (From what point of view are you looking at this? Is there another point of view we should consider?)
- Recognize that all thought is responsive to a question. Assume that you do not fully understand the thought until you understand the question that gives rise to it. (I am not sure exactly what question you are raising. Could you explain it?)
Systems and Contexts For Thought
- Recognize that all thought has three possible functions: to express a subjective preference, to establish an objective fact (within a well-defined system), or to come up with the best of competing answers (generated by competing systems). Assume that you do not fully understand thinking until you know which of the three is involved. (Is the question calling for a subjective or personal choice? If so, let’s make that choice in terms of our personal preferences. If not, then, is there a way to come up with one correct answer to this question (a definite system in which to find the answer)? Or, finally, are we dealing with a question that would be answered differently within different points of view? If the latter, what is the best answer to the question, all things considered?)
- Recognize that all thought has emerged within a human context. Assume that you do not fully understand the thought until you understand the context which has given rise to it. (Tell us more about the situation that has given rise to this problem. What was going on in this situation?)
How To Prepare To Lead a Socratic Discussion
One of the best ways to prepare to lead a Socratic discussion is by pre-thinking the main question to be discussed using the approach of developing prior questions. Prior questions are questions presupposed by another question. Hence, to settle the question “What is multi-culturalism?” I should be able to first settle the question, “What is culture?” and, to settle that question, I should be able to settle the question “What is the basis of culture?” that is, “What are the factors about a person which determine what culture he/she belongs to?”