The Substitute Teacher Guide to Questioning
Good teachers never lecture. They prefer to make their point by asking questions and encouraging discussion. They look for that “a-ha” moment of self-discovery. When students acquire knowledge from their peers, their retention and appreciation of the information improves. Learning via discussion is much more effective than hearing it from a podium.
As a substitute teacher, one of the ways that you can earn respect and maintain control is to run an interesting class. From the students’ perspective, interesting means that things happen that involve them—actively, repeatedly, and enjoyably. Students always prefer to speak themselves and to listen to their classmates rather than listen to you! Lecturing is a sure way to lose the group.
A skilled teacher can gently guide a discussion to make a point or impart important learning. To accomplish this, you must learn how to ask effective questions.
What are the Keys to Good Questioning Techniques?
In order to ask a good question, you must have a firm grasp of the material under discussion and appreciate its meaning and context. Your questions should focus first on “obvious” information— those things that the majority of students will grasp. This includes factual information. In education we call these low-order questions. Once you get the entire class involved, you can move on to consider more creative and analytical information and relationships, high-order questions. As you begin asking questions and soliciting responses and discussion, follow these guidelines:
- Don’t rush! After you’ve asked a question and the first hands go up, wait a few moments. Many students need time to understand and process the question and then formulate a response.
- Use a proven questioning strategy. The basic strategy is threefold. Ask a question (posed to the whole group), pause to allow children to think, and then call on one student to answer. Be sure that you have given all students enough time to understand and then formulate their responses. Many teachers count to five silently and slowly before choosing a student to answer.
- Never say a child’s name and then ask a question. Studies have shown that other students will tune out if they know that they will not have to answer. Ask the whole group, and then choose your responder.
- Always use positive and specific reinforcement when responding to an answer. Try to use the student’s name in your response. For example, say, “Thank you, Jared. That was very insightful. I’m glad you remembered some of Jackie Robinson’s heroic acts.” This type of response is pleasing to Jared and reinforces his answer for the rest of the class. In addition, it encourages others to answer in hopes of obtaining some of your positive stroking.
If you take the time to get your students involved, they will respond. Your job is to draw them out, and a solid questioning strategy will help you do that.
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