Research evidence suggests that effective teachers use a greater number of open questions than less effective teachers. The mix of open and closed questions will, of course, depend on what is being taught and the objectives of the lesson. However, teachers who ask no open questions in a lesson may be providing insufficient cognitive challenges for students.
Questioning is one of the most extensively researched areas of teaching and learning. This is because of its central importance in the teaching and learning process. The research falls into three broad categories
What is effective questioning?
Questioning is effective when it allows students to engage with the learning process by actively composing responses. Research (Borich 1996; Muijs and Reynolds 2001; Morgan and Saxton 1994; Wragg and Brown 2001) suggests that lessons where questioning is effective are likely to have the following characteristics
The research emphasizes the importance of using open, higher-level questions to develop students’ higher-order thinking skills.
Clearly there needs to be a balance between open and closed questions, depending on the topic and objectives for the lesson. A closed question, such as ‘What is the next number in the sequence?’, can be extended by a follow-up question, such as ‘How did you work that out?’
Overall, the research shows that effective teachers use a greater number of higher- order questions and open questions than less effective teachers.
However, the research also demonstrates that most of the questions asked by both effective and less effective teachers are lower order and closed. It is estimated that 70–80 percent of all learning-focused questions require a simple factual response, whereas only 20–30 percent lead students to explain, clarify, expand, generalize or infer. In other words, only a minority of questions demand that students use higher-order thinking sk
How do questions engage students and promote responses?
It doesn’t matter how good and well-structured your questions are if your students do not respond. This can be a problem with shy students or older students who are not used to highly interactive teaching. It can also be a problem with students who are not very interested in school or engaged with learning. The research identifies a number of strategies which are helpful in encouraging student response. (See Borich 1996; Muijs and Reynolds 2001; Morgan and Saxton 1994; Wragg and Brown 2001; Rowe 1986; Black and Harrison 2001; Black et al. 2002.)
Pupil response is enhanced where
How do questions develop students’ cognitive abilities?
Lower-level questions usually demand factual, descriptive answers that are relatively easy to give. Higher-level questions require more sophisticated thinking from students; they are more complex and more difficult to answer. Higher-level questions are central to students’ cognitive development, and research evidence suggests that students’ levels of achievement can be increased by regular access to higher-order thinking. (See Borich 1996; Muijs and Reynolds 2001; Morgan and Saxton 1994; Wragg and Brown 2001; Black and Harrison 2001.)
When you are planning higher-level questions, you will find it useful to use Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (Bloom and Krathwohl 1956) to help structure questions which will require higher-level thinking. Bloom’s taxonomy is a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. The taxonomy classifies cognitive learning into six levels of complexity and abstraction.
On this scale, recalling relevant knowledge is the lowest-order thinking skill and creating is the highest.
Bloom researched thousands of questions routinely asked by teachers and categorized them. His research, and that of others, suggests that most learning- focused questions asked in classrooms fall into the first two categories, with few questions falling into the other categories which relate to higher-order thinking skills.