How do we ensure we are asking pupils the right kind of questions? Ashley Watson explores the important part questioning plays in her lessons.

We are almost halfway through the academic year, and it feels so good to be back in the classroom again. I have really missed the face-to-face interactions, the daily discussions with my pupils and the use of questioning in both practical and critical studies.

After reading Paul Carney’s ‘The Art of Questions’, it really got me thinking again about my own use of ‘questioning’ and how I can develop my skills in this area to best support my pupils.

“Pupil motivation can be lost if the teacher has done all the thinking beforehand. Sometimes all that is left is a series of instructions for students to follow.” – Paul Carney 1

As an Art and Design teacher, ‘questioning’ plays an important part in my lessons through facilitating investigation, problem solving and analysis. When introducing new media, techniques, knowledge of artists and movements, questions become part of the process to support pupil understanding. These questions help to shift the focus from teacher-led to pupil-led learning. As well as helping pupils to build their confidence in forming their own personal opinions, questions can also encourage deep thinking and improve analysis and reflection. But how do we ensure that we are asking the right kind of questions that will support, motivate and encourage independent learning without dictating the outcome?

“Good learning starts with questions, not answers.” – Guy Klaxton 2

Pedagogy and andragogy

Last year, I participated in the Future Facilitators programme run by Joyce Matthews, Facilitator Trainer and former PE Teacher. I was introduced to ‘Andragogy’, a term adopted by Eesearcher and Educator, Malcolm Knowles. Part of the process allowed me to examine the differences between pedagogy and andragogy and question whether or not adults and children were so different in the way that they learn and interact.

  • Pedagogy is a child-focused teaching approach which refers to the theory and practice of education and how this influences the development of learners.
  • Andragogy refers to the methods and approaches used in adult education, shifting the focus from the teacher to the learner. The term coined by Malcolm Knowles, refers to the unique motivators adult learners use.

According to Knowles, adults are at a mature developmental age and are therefore more able to direct their own learning. Adults have a vast array of experiences compared to children, a readiness to learn, practical reasons to learn and are driven by internal motivation. I began to question if by using the exact same principles of andragogy it could help me to engage children and young people in my care.

With this in mind, my focus this term has been about using the principles of andragogy and the skills of facilitation to really think carefully about the kind of questions that I am asking, as well as their delivery. Sometimes we can be guilty of asking our pupils questions without really giving them enough time to think and reflect.

‘Listening to the unsaid’

“Treat silence like it is a word. Listen to it fully, listen to it completely, understand it, respect it.” – Oscar Trimboli 3

The North Ayrshire Future Facilitators programme led me to the work of Oscar Trimboli. He discusses the importance of ‘listening to the unsaid’ and ‘managing the silence’. One of his podcast episodes focuses on deep listening, where he notes that “a deep listener will help the speaker to explore what they haven’t said, to explore what’s not explored in their own mind.”3 As teachers, we advise, we tell, but often less is more. The questions and the enquiry skills that we use can really support our pupils’ understanding but it is also about factoring in ‘thinking time.’ Space to think is vital to their learning. The right questions will encourage them to ‘dig deep’ in order to get to an answer which is right for them.

Leading pupils to find their own answers

For me, one of the most important things is finding the question that is going to evoke curiosity, unlock their thinking and move my pupils forward.

By working through the process together, the focus shifts from using questions to solve, to using questions to explore. The questions aren’t giving pupils answers, each question is leading pupils to find their own answers and, for me, this is what is going to create learners who will grow up to become confident, motivated and independent adults.

If you are looking to deepen your knowledge and understanding of facilitation of andragogy or keen to practise the essential skills of an effective facilitator then please have a look at the work of @JoyceMatthews_ and @NACEdLeadership who have recently been awarded with a Facilitation Impact Award, and are the only award winners in the UK.

References

  1. Carney, P. The Art of Questions.
  2. Hastings, S. 2003 Questioning, Tes News, Viewed 15/11/21, [https://www.tes.com/author/steven-hastings]
  3. Trimboli, O. The Five Levels of Listening- Listening for the Unsaid. [Deep Listening- Impact Beyond Words.] Available at: class=”underline” https://www.
    oscartrimboli.com/podcast/058/ [15/11/21]

Author

  • Ashley Watson

    Ashley is an art and design and photography teacher based in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Embracing creativity and enterprise, she is passionate about building links with industry and the local community to enhance the opportunities for pupil learning and her own professional development.

    View all posts