A colleague recently sent me this article by Howard Aldrich on effective questioning techniques to help get students more engaged. I love the topic of questioning – it’s something I’m really passionate about, and this is a brilliant article. Although it’s conversational in tone, it’s a very quick read (two pages). It’s a really useful resource if you would like to reflect quickly on your own use of questioning, or to signpost to a colleague.
Aldrich begins by discussing how a teacher starting a session by asking “what is the main point of the article I assigned for the day?” can baffle students and lead to a session of unengaged and silent students. It’s often a confidence issue – the question has a factual, correct answer that the teacher knows and the student doesn’t. Why would the student risk their reputation by guessing (perhaps trying to read the teacher’s mind)? Aldrich then suggests an alternative questioning method which teachers can use to begin a class. This is designed to build student confidence and engagement, and illustrate that you value student opinions. I won’t paraphrase the suggested method; Aldrich presents it succinctly enough as it is. But the part that resonates with me especially is Aldrich’s advice on whiteboards.
I’ll admit that I hate writing on whiteboards. At the same time, I recognise that it is a useful technique for collecting and tracking student response to a question or during class discussion, and I use this method especially when the resultant whiteboard list can be used, refined or built upon later in the session. So I suppose that I use whiteboards grudgingly… and this is reflected in my practice. I’ll often abridge what a student says so that I can write as few words as possible. Aldrich’s advice is “if I’m writing answers on the board, I write them in the students’ own words”. At this initial stage, he only edits the wording with the permission of the contributor. His argument is that this “sends a strong signal that you are going to privilege student voices… rather than just looking for confirmation of what you were going to tell them anyway”.
It’s an interesting argument, and I’m going to take this advice forward and trial it in my own practice. I’ll try and be open minded. I doubt I’ll ever like writing on whiteboards, but it’s easier to do something when you understand its value.