Using Advanced Questioning Techniques

Holger Elischberger, Psychological Science

During the first week of my child and adolescent development course this semester, we covered theories. This tends to be a topic that students don’t find very compelling. Despite the many interesting (I think) examples I use to illustrate different aspects of various theories, I’ve still primarily relied on lecture to teach the material.

The ACUE module on “Advanced Questioning Techniques” gave me an opportunity to switch things up by crafting questions designed to make students actively think about two specific theories.

I used (a slightly modified version of) Bloom’s and Linda Nilson’s taxonomies for scaffolding questions from lower to higher level cognitive skills. We first talked about each theory on its own through prompts probing for knowledge, comprehension, and application. We then continued by analyzing their commonalities and differences. We discussed how elements of the theories could be combined and finally assessed, and which of them might ultimately prove to be more useful during the coming semester and why.

Although I already do tend to ask lots of questions in class, working with Nilson’s and Bloom’s taxonomies made me realize that my questions rarely go beyond the level of application and may therefore not foster the kind of deep understanding I’d like students to develop. I’ve also rarely created a set of questions on a particular topic ahead of time. Instead, I’ve relied on being able to think on my feet. This module has taught me that careful planning of questions doesn’t result in scripted/lifeless exchanges (because students’ answers aren’t pre-planned), but can actually be used to deepen students’ mastery of the material.

Not a single question remained unanswered, with answers generally coming from two or more different students. I count that as a success. I’m even more impressed that this kind of conversation occurred during the first week of classes, at a time when the rapport among the students and between the students and me hasn’t fully developed yet. I do believe that some of the questions were perhaps too challenging for some of the students (especially if they didn’t do the readings in preparation), but I hope that even those students experienced some success by knowing the answers to some of the lower-level knowledge and comprehension questions.

The primary challenge for me was that it took quite some time to come up with meaningful questions at various levels, particularly during an extremely busy first week of classes. Still, I do think that just the act of engaging students in an on-going dialogue rather than lecturing at them sent the message that I’ll expect them to take an active role in their own learning this semester.