UKEdMag: Questions, Questions, Questions by @bellaale

This article extract is from the September 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine. Click here to read the full article in the free online publication.

QuestionsFeature

[pullquote]Good learning starts with questions, not answers”[/pullquote]

Professor Guy Claxton proposed that “good learning starts with questions, not answers”. As my own learning and teaching approach has developed, over time, I think this sentence has become more and more central to how things work in my classroom.

I have a large display on the wall of my room to remind me and my pupils of the different types of Socratic questioning, in order to constantly help us all clarify our thinking; to challenge our own assumptions; to provide evidence for our arguments; to offer alternative perspectives; to extrapolate what the potential consequences of our answers might be; to question the initial question – overall, to engage in a process of critical thinking.

In parallel with this, and often hand-in-hand in my classroom, the rapid advent of digital technology plays a major role. Initially, this was almost entirely teacher-controlled; standing at the front, with the IWB a mere extension of my laptop screen, a little like that OHP had been when I first qualified… Increasingly, via the ‘bring your own device’ or BYOD, where schools allow pupils to use their own smartphones or tablets in class. BYOD process has evolved as close as possible to 1-to-1 (mainly with my older classes, though not exclusively). My school does not have a huge array of its own ICT equipment, whereas increasingly many of my older pupils have 3G-enabled devices, and happily, the school’s leadership has a relatively forward-looking approach to their usage in the classroom. (I know this will dismay some – but I happily invite you to come and watch us in action, if you need convincing…)

There is an almost bewildering array of web-tools and apps available for harnessing questioning in the classroom, and it is possible to pick and choose the most appropriate one for the task at hand, or indeed, to stick to low-tech approaches if they work best in a given scenario.

The following are my current ‘Top 5 free questioning tools’, and are in no particular order (but ask me in 6 months time and this list may well have evolved somewhat):

Socrative.com is a tool which can either be used via the recently-upgraded website, or downloaded for free as an app on teachers’ and pupils’ smartphones or tablets, which certainly makes sense as it is optimised for smaller screens. It offers four main features: firstly, a simple “quick question”, which can be in three forms (multiple choice, true/false or short answer – therefore allowing not just closed questions, but shortish open ones too). These can be off-the-cuff, spontaneous questions, requiring no advance planning – but crucially, still allowing the answers from the whole class to be downloaded as a spreadsheet or PDF, saved to Google Drive, or emailed for AfL purposes, to help with planning further lessons on the basis of how well the pupils have taken things on board so far.

Secondly, you can string a pre-planned series of questions together into a quiz. Again, the answers can be in all the above forms, and the answers collated for further attention after the quiz is completed. This works well in a mid-lesson/mid-topic setting.

The third type of activity is called a ‘space race’, and is a competitive version of a quiz, where pupils answer questions in a race to get their little spaceship across the screen first. Once again, various question types are possible. This element is appropriate for the end of a lesson or topic.

Finally, there is the ‘exit ticket’ feature, allowing pupils to demonstrate the extent to which they have grasped what they have learned for that lesson/topic.

Put these four features together and you have a very useful tool indeed. It is simplicity itself to use and it provides teachers with very useful data to show where he/she needs to add more detail, explain something better, and so on – an example of a powerful feature that educational technology adds, which traditional approaches cannot do. Teachers can also share quizzes with each other via the website or app.

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