To say that these are unprecedented times in higher education is becoming an understatement. Across the country, traditional face-to-face classes are now in remote delivery. University teachers are working assiduously to approximate as much as possible the best practices of traditional classroom teaching format in the digital platform. This unique transition presents the opportunity to reconsider one of those best practices, questioning. Here is Funmi Amobi overviewing this post with Regan A. R. Gurung.
Second in prominence only to content delivery, questioning is central to teaching and learning. Whether through live lectures on Zoom, video-recorded lectures or in discussion boards, teaching and asking questions go hand in hand. One of the keystones of effective teaching is the ability to ask good questions that promote student learning and engagement. The literature is replete with great suggestions and strategies for using questions to check for understanding, stimulate critical thinking, facilitate student engagement, and encourage discussions.
So, why reconsider questioning? Even in the best situation where professors implement effective strategies, the process of questioning is often teacher centered. The professor initiates a question, calls on a student to respond, and evaluates the student’s response. The predominantly used Initiate-Response-Evaluate (IRE) approach focuses each round of questions and answers on one student at a time. In this pattern of interaction, the professor generates questions, governs the conversation, and judges student response. Admittedly, remote teaching on Zoom affords the opportunity to poll all students at once. However, the IRE pattern persists.
In recent weeks, university teachers have made the quantum leap of moving traditional face-to-face instruction to remote delivery. This transition offers the opportunity to explore the possibilities of giving students agency to function as question generators, not just as question answerers. Doing this calls for the implementation of three strategies: Think Aloud, Student Self-Questioning, and Reciprocal Peer-Questioning.
Bringing out the best in students as critical thinkers and independent learners requires that professors model their own thinking. That riveting live or recorded lecture presented in Zoom or Canvas is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath, but mostly unearthed, are the questions and thought processes that informed the development of the content delivered. Make those questions and thought processes visible to students. Think aloud calls for explicit verbalization of the questions that prod expert thinking in the discipline.
When professors make visible the questions that instruct their mental processes during content delivery, they incentivize their students to dive deeper, share their own thought processes, and generate high-order content area domain questions (Wilson & Smetana, 2011). Yes, prompting students to answer questions that demand high-level thinking is one of the essential building blocks of metacognition. However, “For an individual to be a proficient thinker, he or she must be proficient in developing questions” (Nappi, 2017, p. 36).
Question generation does not occur automatically. Years of functioning as question answerers have acclimated students to using the professor’s questions to jump-start their thought processes. The first step in scaffolding the development of student self-questioning is the intentional think aloud by the professor. The next step is to provide a structure to facilitate students’ think aloud.
The questioning circles model encompasses three areas cognition: Subject Matter, Personal Response, and External Environment. Subject matter represents questions related to the material under study, that is, a lecture or reading. Personal response refers to questions related to the student’s reaction to the subject matter under study. External environment entails questions about how the subject matter relates to other disciplines, and the real world (Nippi, 2017). As novice question generators, students may benefit from using the following generic question stems to scaffold the self-questioning process:
- What do I know about —————-?
- What if ————–?
- What conclusions can I draw from —————?
- What is the difference between ———— and —————?
- How would I use ————— to ————–?
- In what situations could ————————- be applied?
(Corley & Rausher, 2013)
Reciprocal Peer Questioning
During a Zoom lecture, the professor models think aloud to students. Following a break in the lecture, students work individually to generate questions about the content of the lecture. Then in Zoom breakout rooms, students take turns posing one question for discussion by the group. This form of peer interaction helps students to develop adaptive expertise in addressing questions of common concern, negotiating different ways to formulate answers, and examining their perspectives. Choi, Land and Turgeon (2005) found that peer-generated questions facilitated students’ reflection and knowledge construction.
Yes, some students’ initial self-questioning skills may reflect limited cognition in content knowledge. This metacognitive dilemma can be overcome through peer questioning as students facilitate and reinforce the quality and clarity of one another’s questions. In this sense, reciprocal peer questioning serves a critical role as virtual peer instruction.
Why Questioning Reconsidered Matters
Getting students engaged in class discourse and group work is a recurring problem in college teaching. More so now, in the emergency remote teaching environment. A recurring recommendation is that student engagement pivots on their level of interest in what their professors ask them to do. Using think aloud, self-questioning and reciprocal peer questioning to provoke students’ own questions on the learning content is a stimulus for engagement. Furthermore, scheduling a forum to discuss those questions, in addition to the metacognitive benefits, creates an environment for students to look out for one another’s learning success. In this era of physical distancing and interaction by screen, that is an inherent student buy in for the reconsidered questioning process.
Choi, I., Land, S. M. & Turgeon, A. J. (2005). Scaffolding peer-questioning strategies to facilitate metacognition during small-group discussion. Instructional Science, 33, 483-511.
Corley, M. A. & Rauscher, W. C. (2013). Deeper learning through questioning. Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, 12, 1-5.
Nippi, J. S. (2017). The importance of questioning in developing critical skills. International Journal for Professional Educators, 84(1), 30-41.
Wilson, N. S. & Smetana, L. (2011). Questioning as thinking: A metacognitive framework to improve comprehension in expository text. Literacy, 40(2), 84-90.
Funmi Amobi is an instructional consultant and college liaison in Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Funmi provides consultations to faculty in individual and small group settings to support teaching excellence and student success. Join Funmi for Spring 2020 CTL LINC Sparkshop Lunch Series. To schedule a Sparkshop call Funmi @ 541 737 1338 or email: Funmi.Amobi@OregonState.edu