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IN THE CLASSROOM

Teaching Tactics
10th Anniversary Celebration of the AARs Excellence in Teaching Award.
Presentation by the 2006 award winner.

Building Questioning Strategies: Or, Why Am I Asking


These Questions And Where Are They Taking Us?
Patricia OConnell Killen, Pacific Lutheran University
Pause and Introduction
Retrieve a time from your own experience as a learner when you first asked a
good question and knew that it was a good question. How were you different after
that? As a learner? As a thinker? As a human being? What was irrevocably altered
in your moment of shaping, uttering, and owning a good question?
Nothing is more powerful for professors and for students than an apt question.
Questions give us purchase on material and on our own thinking process. Questions ground and guide us in the process of comprehending, analyzing, criticizing,
and creating arguments.
While serendipity sometimes bestows the apt question upon us, as with any art,
serendipity visits most often those who have practiced. In this case, the practice is
building questioning strategies. I am proposing that taking the time to build questioning strategies may be the most practical thing you do as a professor.
What is a Questioning Strategy?
A carefully sequenced set of questions, designed to advance the learning goals
of a class. Attention to the kinds of questions being asked, their level of difficulty, the scaling of their sequence, and anticipated possible responses tend to
characterize well-developed questioning strategies.
A questioning strategy contributes to the alignment of students, material, and
professor that propels toward greater understanding and more incisive engagement with material.
Why Bother with a Questioning Strategy?
To freshen our relationship with the course material; clarify pedagogical
options; make more purposeful and pedagogically smart choices; strengthen
sensibilities for attending to how students interact with material; track the
learning process in a class session more astutely; gain thinking/breathing time
in class; move ones own thinking from implicit to explicit.
Take advantage of the multiple functions and purposes questions serve:
Focus attention on some dimension of subject matter.
Function as pivots, building a bridge for the focus of attention from one
object, idea, or intellectual task to another.

2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd


Teaching Theology and Religion, Volume 13, Issue 3, July 2010

251

Killen

Open-ended initiating, diagnosis, information-seeking, testing reasoning or


positions, action/application, priority and sequence, prediction, implication
extension, generalization, and more.
Avoid spinning your wheels with questions:
Do not ask a question to hear yourself talk.
Do not mislead your students by asking questions about material you consider trivial.
Avoid yes or no questions.
Phrase questions so that the task is clear.
Avoid vague questions.
Ask questions about material and issues you consider important.
Work from questions that require more concrete thinking to questions that
require more analytical, synthetic, and evaluative thinking.
Example of a Questioning Strategy: Assess, Sort, Order, Build. This is a strategy
that I use in situations where: (a) students have read an important essay or large
amount of material and I want to test their grasp of it; or (b) I want to take the
pulse of where the students are in learning the material of a course. I put this chart
onto the whiteboard in class (Table 1). Then with students in pairs or triads, I have
them go over the material they have read, discussing it in relation to these four
categories. After the groups have worked, they fill in the categories on the board.
Then we work with it as a whole class to see patterns, points of understanding,
confusion, questions, and concerns. I can then help them strengthen their comprehension and analysis and build on their lacunae in terms of knowledge, analysis,
and more.
Find Your Own Framework for Questioning
Multiple frameworks exist for thinking about questioning.
Find a framework and categorization for questions that makes sense for you
that works with your pedagogy and material.
Draw on fundamental research about questioning: give wait time before
repeating a question; do not rephrase the question; ask one question at a time,
not a string of questions; begin with more concrete questions and move to
abstract, complex questions; use a variety of kinds of questions.
Write down your questioning strategy and take time after class to think about
whether and how it worked.
Table 1:
This is what I know from the reading;
this is how it is significant; and this is
how it fits with the other material

252

This is what I know but I dont know


why I should know it (i.e., dont grasp
relationships among the parts or
significance of the material)

Questions and
Confusions

Objections

2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Building Questioning Strategies

Resources
Anderson, L.W. and D.R. Krathwohl, eds. 2001. A Taxonomy for Learning,
Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Blooms Taxonomy of Educational
Objectives. New York, N.Y.: Longman.
Barkley, Elizabeth F. K., Patricia Cross, and Claire Howell Major. 2005.
Collaborative Learning Techniques. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San
Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, Stephen D., and Stephen Preskell. 2005. Discussion as a Way of
Teaching. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Christensen, C. Roland, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet. 1991. Education for
Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard
Business School Press.
Eller, Linda and Richard Paul. 2004. The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking
Questions. Dillon Beach, Calif.: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Finkel, Donald. 2000. Teaching with Your Mouth Shut. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.
Neff, Rose Ann and Maryellen Weimer. 1989. Classroom Communication:
Collected Readings for Effective Discussion and Questioning. Madison, Wis.:
Magna.
Rotenberg, Robert. 2005. The Art and Craft of College Teaching. Walnut Creek,
Calif.: Left Coast Press.
Sanders, Norris. 1966. Classroom Questions, What Kind? New York, N.Y.:
HarperCollins.
Fostaty Young, Sue and Robert J. Wilson. 2000. Assessment and Learning: The
ICE Approach. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Portage and Main.

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