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THE ART OF QUESTIONING

Presented by Elizabeth M. Role, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Mathematics and Physics & School of Education University of Eastern Africa, Baraton
Introduction Ask a teacher how he or she teaches and, chances are, the answer is, "By asking questions." However, if you go on and ask just how he or she uses questions or what sets apart keen, invigorating questioning from mechanical versions, that same teacher might have a hard time replying. Research and observation reveal that there are many classrooms in which teachers rarely pose questions above the "read-it-and-repeat-it" level. Questions that demand inferential reasoning, much less hypothesis-formation or the creative transfer of information to new situations, simply do not occur with any frequency. An early study of questioning done in 1912 by Stevens found that two-thirds of classroom questions required nothing more than direct recitation of textbook information. In 1970, 58 years after the original study, Gall reported that 60 percent of the questions students hear require factual answers, 20 percent concern procedures, and only 20 percent require inference, transfer, or reflection. The questions and answers that do occur often take place in a bland, if not boring or bleak, intellectual landscape, where student answers meet only with responses from teachers at the "uh-huh" level. Even more sobering is the observation that teachers' questions often go nowhere. They may request the definition of a sonnet, the date of Shakespeare's birth, the meaning of the word "varlet"- but, once the reply is given, that is the end of the sequence. Extended stretches of questioning in which the information builds from facts toward insight or complex ideas rarely take place. Classroom questions are often insincere. Some are rhetorical: "Are we ready to begin now?" Others are mere information checks-a teacher knows the answer and wants to know if students do, too. Missing from many classrooms are what might be considered true questions, either requests for new information that belongs uniquely to the person being questioned or initiations of mutual inquiry. The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking, and Learning One of the reasons that teachers tend to overemphasize "coverage" over "engaged thinking" is that they assume that answers can be taught separate from questions. Questions are so buried in established instruction that the fact that all assertions are implicit answers to questions is virtually never recognized. The statement that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius is an answer to the question "At what temperature Celsius does water boil?" Every declarative statement in the textbook is an answer to a question. Hence, every textbook could be rewritten in the interrogative mode by translating every statement into a question. Thinking is Driven by Questions Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. Had no questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field - for example, Physics or Biology - the field would never

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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have been developed in the first place. Furthermore, every field stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously as the driving force in a process of thinking. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask questions that stimulate our thought. Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers, on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such. This is why it is true that only students who have questions are really thinking and learning. It is possible to give students an examination on any subject by just asking them to list all of the questions that they have about a subject, including all questions generated by their first list of questions. That we do not test students by asking them to list questions and explain their significance is again evidence of the privileged status we give to answers isolated from questions. That is, we ask questions only to get thought-stopping answers, not to generate further questions. Feeding students endless content to remember (that is, declarative sentences to remember) is akin to repeatedly stepping on the brakes in a vehicle that is, unfortunately, already at rest. Instead, students need questions to turn on their intellectual engines and they need to generate questions from our questions to get their thinking to go somewhere. Thinking is of no use unless it goes somewhere, and again, the questions we ask determine where our thinking goes. Dead Questions Reflect Dead Minds Unfortunately, most students ask virtually none of thought-stimulating types of questions. They tend to stick to dead questions like "Is this going to be on the test?", questions that imply the desire not to think. Most teachers in turn are not themselves generators of questions and answers of their own, that is, are not seriously engaged in thinking through or rethinking through their own subjects. Rather, they are suppliers of the questions and answers of others-usually those of a textbook. We must continually remind ourselves that thinking begins with respect to some content only when questions are generated by both teachers and students. No questions equals no understanding. Superficial questions equals superficial understanding. Most students typically have no questions. They not only sit in silence; their minds are silent at well. Hence, the questions they do have tend to be superficial and ill-informed. This demonstrates that most of the time they are not thinking through the content they are presumed to be learning. This demonstrates that most of the time they are not learning the content they are presumed to be learning. If we want thinking we must stimulate it with questions that lead students to further questions. We must overcome what previous schooling has done to the thinking of students. We must resuscitate minds that are largely dead when we receive them. We must give our students what might be called "artificial cogitation" (the intellectual equivalent of artificial respiration). Questioning in the Classroom As teachers, we ask questions

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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To find out whether students know things. To develop students thinking ability. To motivate students learning. To help students interpret materials. To help students organize materials in their minds. To provide drill or practice. To emphasize important points. To show relationships, such as cause and effect. To discover students interests To provide review. To give practice in expression. To reveal mental processes. To show agreement and disagreement. To establish rapport with students. To gain the attention of wandering minds. To diagnose. To evaluate.

Two additional outcomes of fine questioning that often escape the notice of traditional measures of classroom achievement are: First, there is a social outcome-students need the face-to-face skill of raising questions with other people: clarity about what they don't understand and want to know; the willingness to ask; the bravery to ask again. One could rephrase the Chinese proverb: Ask a man a question and he inquires for a day; teach a man to question and he inquires for life. And, second, there is a creative or inventive outcome. Being asked and learning to pose strong questions might offer students a deeply held, internal blueprint for inquiry -- apart from the prods and supports of questions from without. Question finding is the ability to go to a poem, a painting, a piece of music-or a document, a mathematical description, a science experiment-and locate a novel direction for investigation. This ability is difficult to teach directly, yet it may be one of the most important byproducts of learning in an educational climate in which the questions asked are varied, worth pursuit, authentic, and humanely posed. Basic Types of Questions Direct Information Questions help students identify, describe, recall, recognize, & tell who, what, where, when. Relational Questions develop students abilities to relate, conclude, infer, compare, and distinguish. Divergent Questions show students how to predict, construct, generate, design, create, and develop their ideas. Evaluation Questions help students evaluate, choose, compare and decide. Categories of Questions There are many systems that teachers use to classify questions. Upon close observation, in most systems questions are typically classified into two categories. Various terms are used to describe these two categories (Figure 1). The binary approach is useful because two

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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categories are more manageable for a beginning teacher to learn to implement than the typical approach of using systems with more than two categories.

Figure 1. Categories of Questions Category 1 Category 2 Factual Closed Higher cognitive Open

Convergent Divergent Lower level Higher level Low order High order

Low inquiry High inquiry One way to classify questions is to determine whether they are low inquiry (closed or convergent) or high inquiry (open or divergent). Low inquiry questions These questions focus on previously learned knowledge in order to answer questions posed by the teacher which require the students to perform ONE of the following tasks: 1. Elicit the meaning of a term. 2. Represent something by a word or a phrase. 3. Supply an example of something. 4. Make statements of issues, steps in a procedure, rules, conclusions, ideas and beliefs that have previously been made. 5. Supply a summary or a review that was previously said or provided. 6. Provide a specific, predictable answer to a question. High inquiry questions These questions focus on previously learned knowledge in order to answer questions posed by the teacher which require the students to perform ONE of the following tasks: 1. Perform an abstract operation, usually of a mathematical nature. 2. Rate some entity as to its value, dependability, importance, or sufficiency with a defense of the rating. 3. Find similarities or differences in the qualities of two or more entities utilizing criteria defined by the student. 4. Make a prediction that is the result of some stated condition, state, operation, object, or substance. 5. Make inferences to account for the occurrence of something (how or why it occurred).

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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Low inquiry questions tend to reinforce "correct" answers, or focus on specific acceptable answers, whereas high inquiry questions stimulate a broader range of responses, and tend to stimulate high levels of thinking. There is evidence to support the importance of using both types of questions. Low inquiry questions will help sharpen students ability to recall experiences and events of teaching. Low inquiry questions are useful if you are interested in having students focus on the details of the content of a chapter in their textbook, or a laboratory experiment. High inquiry questions encourage a range of responses from students and tend to stimulate divergent thinking. Figure 2 summarizes the differences between low and high inquiry questions. Figure 2. Differences Between Low and High Inquiry Questions Type of Question Low inquiry (convergent) Describe in own words Summarize Classify on basis of known criteria Give an example of something High inquiry (divergent) Create Open unique or original design, report, inference, prediction Judge scientific credibility Give an opinion or state an attitude Make value judgements about issues Student responses Recall, memorize Type of response Examples Closed How many... Define... In your own words...state similarities and differences... What is the evidence...? What is an example...? Design an experiment... What do you predict...? What do you think about...? Design a plan that would solve...? What evidence can you cite to support...?

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

Compiled by Jess Role UEAB

Blooms Taxonomy of Objectives Fifty years ago, Benjamin Bloom suggested that the same information can be handled in more and less demanding ways-students can be asked to recall facts, to analyze those facts, to synthesize or discover new information based on the facts, or to evaluate knowledge. Questions posed in class discussion can be based on the different levels of Blooms taxonomy: 1. Knowledge/Recall 2. Comprehension 3. Analysis 4. Application 5. Synthesis 6. Evaluation Low-level questions deal with knowledge/recall and comprehension, while higher level questions address analysis, application, synthesis and evaluation. A Range of Questions There is a greater range of challenging questions than Bloom's familiar taxonomy. Inference Questions. These questions ask students to go beyond the immediately available information. To push beyond the factual is to ask students to find clues, examine them, and discuss what inferences are justified. Interpretation Questions. If inference questions demand that students fill in missing information, then interpretive questions propose that they understand the consequences of information or ideas. Transfer Questions. If inference and interpretation questions ask a student to go deeper, transfer questions provoke a kind of breadth of thinking, asking students to take their knowledge to new places. Questions about Hypotheses. Typically, questions about what can be predicted and tested are thought of as belonging to sciences and other "hard" pursuits. But, in fact, predictive thinking matters in all domains. When we read a novel, we gather evidence about the world of the story, the trustworthiness of the narrator, the style of the author, all of which we use to predict what we can expect in the next chapter. Far from letting their students simply soak in the content of dances, plays, or fiction, skilled teachers probe for predictions as a way of making students actively aware of their expectations. Reflective Questions. When teachers ask reflective questions, they are insisting that students ask themselves: "How do I know I know?"; "What does this leave me not knowing?"; "What things do I assume rather than examine?" Such questions may

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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leave a class silent, because they take mulling over. Nonetheless, they eventually lead to important talk about basic assumptions. Deep questions drive our thought underneath the surface of things and force us to deal with complexity. Questions of purpose force us to define our task. Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information. Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information. Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted. Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going. Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view. Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question. Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific. Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions. Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind. An Arc of Questions But simply posing a variety of questions hardly creates a climate for inquiry. At least as important is the way in which teachers respond to the answers their questions provoke. When students' replies meet with little more than a passing "uh-huh", such responses can stop inquiry dead in its tracks. In place of such dead-end situations, skilled teachers give an exchange of questions a life-course. Across a long arc of questions and answers, they pursue an investigation in which simple factual inquiries give way to increasingly interpretive questions until new insights emerge. For an observer, there is an impression of a kind of mutually constructed improvisation unfolding. In this improvisation, teachers keep questions alive through long stretches of time, coming back to them days, even weeks, after they have first been asked. This arc of questioning allows information to accrue a kind of satisfying depth and complexity. Wait Time Knowledge of the types of questions, and their predicted effect on student thinking is important to know. However, researchers have found that there are other factors associated with questioning that can enhance critical and creative thinking. One of the purposes of questioning is to enhance and increase verbal behavior of students in the science classroom. Research has discovered that the following factors affect student verbal behavior: 1. Increasing the period of time that a teacher waits for students to construct a response to a question. 2. Increasing the amount of time that a teacher waits before replying to a student response. 3. Decreasing the pattern of reward and punishment delivered to students. It was found that if teachers increase the time they wait after asking a question to five seconds or longer, then the length of response increases. In the science classroom, where the teacher is trying to encourage inquiry thinking, wait time becomes an important skill, as well as a symbol of the teacher's attitude toward student thinking. Teachers who are willing

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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to wait recognize that inquiry thinking requires thoughtful consideration on the part of the students. Teachers who extend their wait times to five seconds or longer increase "speculative" thinking. The use of silence in the classroom can become a powerful tool to enhance critical and creative thinking. Teacher sanctions (positive and negative rewards), if used indiscriminately, can reduce student inquiry. At first glance, this doesn't make sense. However, research has found that when rewards are high, students tend to stop experimenting sooner than if rewards are low. When students begin attending to rewards rather than the task, the spirit of inquiry tends to decrease. Attitude of the Teacher Another factor related to questioning is the attitude of the teacher. Have you ever been in a class situation in which you wanted to ask a question but feared the teacher's reaction to your question---it might be a dumb question. One classroom rule that we think is important is "there are no dumb questions." A corollary to this rule is "there are no dumb answers." Students need to believe that their responses will be accepted by the teacher; anything short of this will tend to reduce the probability of student participation. The very way in which teachers ask questions can undermine, rather than build, a shared spirit of investigation. First, teachers tend to monopolize the right to question - rarely do more than procedural questions come from students. Second, the question-driven exchanges that occur in classrooms almost uniformly take place between teachers and students, hardly ever shifting so that questions flow between students. Moreover, classroom questioning can be exclusive. It can easily become the private preserve of a few - the bright, the male, the English-speaking. Questions can embarrass, rather than inquire. They can leave a student feeling exposed and stupid, more willing to skip class than to be humiliated again. Clearly, teachers can use questions to embarrass or to empower. For instance, questions can be designed to smoke out guilty parties - students who didn't do their homework, who fail to answer quickly enough, or who can't think on their feet. But it is equally possible to use questions to promote students' sense of themselves as knowledgeable and skilled. Another level at which questions embarrass or empower is related to nonverbal performance. The teacher looks at the student when he poses questions; he respects, rather than cuts off, the student, even when she gropes for an answer; he waits for her to formulate a reply. Studies of just these kinds of subtle phenomena - such as, how long a teacher waits for a reply - indicate that small changes, even in the nonverbal integrity of questioning, can have measurable effects on the quality of classroom inquiry The issue of what questions are asked and how they are posed is, or ought to be, part of a much larger inquiry. Currently, there is a deep concern about how - or even if we teach students to think. There is startling evidence that many college students cannot draw inferences from texts, distinguish the relevant information in mathematics problems, or provide and defend a thesis in an essay. We have apparently developed a system of education in which rote learning occurs early and inquiry late. We teach the skills of scribes and clerks, rather than authors and mathematicians. We have come to accept a view of education that sees the experience of schooling largely in terms of its power to produce employable, rather than intelligent students who will become employers themselves. Then Why So Few Questions?

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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Teachers know questions to be one of their most familiar - maybe even one of their most powerful - tools. But if observations are accurate, much of classroom inquiry is low-level, short, even exclusive or harsh. Moreover, these qualities turn out to be remarkably resistant to change. Why is this the case? Here, ironically, where the vital issue of what fuels or explains these persistent patterns of questioning emerges, there is little or no research. While teachers freely admit they have colleagues who are simply not interested in the work of questioning, they also point out that there are hurdles even for the committed. Here, in their own words, are some things they have pointed out. It takes skill and practice to build a climate of inquiry, and there are few forums in which teachers can be helped in -or rewarded for-this endeavor. "There are 34 students in the room. Some have read the lesson, others haven't; some understand, others are lost. It takes skill - lots of skill - to put together a discussion for those 34 people. Frankly, it is often easier for me to take charge." It is a formidable challenge to establish and maintain a climate of inquiry with students of widely varying backgrounds and skills. "Questions work fine when you have students who have a set of prior skills - I mean, who know about listening to what someone else says, who can follow up with a question of their own, who are used to digging for information. But what do you do when you don't find that? Do you stop to teach it? And how do you teach it, anyway?" "My classroom has everything in it: students whose families have taught them the 'right' thing is to be quiet and respect the teacher, students who argue for the sake of arguing, girls who take neatly indented notes and never say a word, boys who like hearing themselves talk. How do you make it work for all of them?" But even with such problems as class size and diversity, teachers rarely cite students as the major obstacle. Instead, they describe the culture of schools as one that dampens their own investment in inquiry. "Don't forget that teachers live day in and day out in a school culture. That culture teaches. In most places it teaches you to suspect that there is nothing to learn from students. It puts textbooks - not primary sources - in your hands. Textbooks make for the recitation of facts. It's a culture that puts coverage above all. You have to cover all of the topics in the course outline. What textbooks start, tests often enforce. In that world, questions, especially big messy ones, are dangerous. You have to keep too many of them from happening." Conclusion What can UEAB do to encourage teachers to use questions to promote critical thinking among students and model how to ask the right questions? Give teachers time and opportunity to think about their classes as moments of joint inquiry - time to observe skilled colleagues in action, time to see themselves on videotape, time to think through not just lesson plans, but process plans: when to ask, who to ask, and above all, how to ask and respond. Allow teachers to learn in ways that will sustain their own abilities to inquire and reflect about their own subjects of interest.

The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

Compiled by Jess Role UEAB

Research on Classroom Questioning Classroom questioning is an extensively researched topic. The high incidence of questioning as a teaching strategy, and its consequent potential for influencing student learning, have led many investigators to examine relationships between questioning methods and student achievement and behavior. General Findings Some researchers have conducted general investigations of the role of classroom questioning and have drawn the following conclusions: Instruction which includes posing questions during lessons is more effective in producing achievement gains than instruction carried out without questioning students. Students perform better on test items previously asked as recitation questions than on items they have not been exposed to before. Oral questions posed during classroom recitations are more effective in fostering learning than are written questions. Questions which focus student attention on salient elements in the lesson result in better comprehension than questions which do not. Placement and Timing of Questions Asking questions frequently during class discussions is positively related to learning facts. Increasing the frequency of classroom questions does not enhance the learning of more complex material. (Some researchers have found no relationship; others have found a negative relationship.) Posing questions before reading and studying material is effective for students who are older, high ability, and/or known to be interested in the subject matter. Very young children and poor readers tend to focus only on material that will help them answer questions if these are posed before the lesson is presented.

Cognitive Level of Questions The majority of researchers have looked at the relative effects on student outcomes produced by what they call higher and lower cognitive questions. They looked into the cognitive level of teachers' questions in relation to the subject matter, the students, and the teachers' intent and the findings include: On the average, during classroom recitations, approximately 60 percent of the questions asked are lower cognitive questions, 20 percent are higher cognitive questions, and 20 percent are procedural. Higher cognitive questions are not categorically better than lower cognitive questions in elicting higher level responses or in promoting learning gains. Lower cognitive questions are more effective than higher level questions with young (primary level) children, particularly the disadvantaged. Lower cognitive questions are more effective when the teacher's purpose is to impart factual knowledge and assist students in committing this knowledge to memory. In settings where a high incidence of lower level questions is appropriate, greater frequency of questions is positively related to student achievement. When predominantly lower level questions are used, their level of difficulty should be such that most will elicit correct responses.

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In most classes above the primary grades, a combination of higher and lower cognitive questions is superior to exclusive use of one or the other. Students whom teachers perceive as slow or poor learners are asked fewer higher cognitive questions than students perceived as more capable learners. Increasing the use of higher cognitive questions (to considerably above the 20 percent incidence noted in most classes) produces superior learning gains for students above the primary grades and particularly for secondary students. Simply asking higher cognitive questions does not necessarily lead students to produce higher cognitive responses. Teaching students to draw inferences and giving them practice in doing so result in higher cognitive responses and greater learning gains. Increases in the use of higher cognitive questions in recitations does not reduce student performance on lower cognitive questions on tests. For older students, increases in the use of higher cognitive questions (to 50 percent or more) are positively related to increases in: (1) On-task behavior (2) Length of student responses (3) The number of relevant contributions volunteered by students (4) The number of student-to-student interactions (5) Student use of complete sentences (6) Speculative thinking on the part of students (7) Relevant questions posed by students For older students, increases in the use of higher cognitive questions (to 50 percent or more) are positively related to increased teacher expectations about children's abilities - particularly the abilities of those students whom teachers have habitually regarded as slow or poor learners.

Wait Time Researchers on questioning strategies speak of two kinds of wait-time: "wait-time 1" refers to the amount of time the teacher allows to elapse after he/she has posed a question and before a student begins to speak; and "wait-time 2" refers to the amount of time a teacher waits after a student has stopped speaking before saying anything. The research has focused more on wait-time 1 than wait-time 2, but the following findings apply to both. Because research has established a positive relationship between the amount of instructional content covered and student achievement, researchers and other educators have recommended that teachers keep up brisk instructional pacing. In this way, the reasoning goes, classes will cover more material, student interest will be maintained, and achievement levels will be higher. As with the research on the cognitive level of teachers' questions, this wisdom turns out to have limited application. The average wait-time teachers allow after posing a question is one second or less. Students whom teachers perceive as slow or poor learners are given less wait-time than those teachers view as more capable. For lower cognitive questions, a wait-time of three seconds is most positively related to achievement, with less success resulting from shorter or longer wait-times. There seems to be no wait-time threshold for higher cognitive questions; students seem to become more and more engaged and perform better and better the longer the teacher is willing to wait. Increasing wait-time beyond three seconds is positively related to the following student outcomes: (1) Improvements in the student achievement (2) Improvements in student retention, as measured by delayed tests (3) Increases in the number of higher cognitive responses generated by students

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Increases in the length of student responses Increases in the number of unsolicited responses Decreases in students' failure to respond Increases in the amount and quality of evidence students offer to support their inferences (8) Increases in contributions by students who do not participate much when waittime is under three seconds (9) Expansion of the variety of responses offered by students (10) Decreases in student interruptions (11) Increases in student-student interactions (12) Increases in the number of questions posed by students Increasing wait-time beyond three seconds is positively related to the following teacher outcomes: (1) Increases in flexibility of teacher responses, with teachers listening more and engaging students in more discussions 2) Increases in teacher expectations regarding students usually thought of as slow (3) Expansion of the variety of questions asked by teachers (4) Increases in the number of higher cognitive questions asked by teachers.

(4) (5) (6) (7)

Guidelines for Classroom Questioning Based on the foregoing findings from the research on classroom questioning, the following recommendations are offered: Incorporate questioning into classroom teaching/learning practices. Ask questions which focus on the salient elements in the lesson; avoid questioning students about extraneous matters. When teaching students factual material, keep up a brisk instructional pace, frequently posing lower cognitive questions. With older and higher ability students, ask questions before (as well as after) material is read and studied. Question younger and lower ability students only after material has been read and studied. Ask a majority of lower cognitive questions when instructing younger and lower ability students. Structure these questions so that most of them will elicit correct responses. Ask a majority of higher cognitive questions when instructing older and higher ability students. In settings where higher cognitive questions are appropriate, teach students strategies for drawing inferences. Keep wait-time to about three seconds when conducting recitations involving a majority of lower cognitive questions. Increase wait-time beyond three seconds when asking higher cognitive questions. Be particularly careful to allow generous amounts of wait-time to students perceived as lower ability. Use redirection and probing as part of classroom questioning and keep these focused on salient elements of students' responses. Avoid vague or critical responses to student answers during recitations. During recitations, use praise sparingly and make certain it is sincere, credible, and directly connected to the students' responses. In conclusion, better pre-service training in the art of posing classroom questions, together with in-service training to sharpen teachers' questioning skills, have potential for increasing students' classroom participation and achievement. Increasing wait-time and the incidence of higher cognitive questions, in particular, have considerable promise for improving the effectiveness of classroom instruction.

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Bibliography
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The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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The Art of Questioning by Elizabeth M. Role UEAB 2007

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Compiled by Jess Role UEAB