A Question of Economics: Evoke, Embed and Extend - the Three Es of Investigative Questioning in Economics Teaching

Article excerpt

The role of questions in Business and Economics teaching is central to developing student skills and learning. During the hurly burly of normal teaching we may not always think carefully about the type of questions that we ask students. This article is a useful reminder of some basic principles related to the use of questions in lessons. Fran Smith uses the context of Economics to highlight these principles but the idea can easily be applied to business studies and other related subjects.

At the beginning of every academic year I find myself asking the same question: 'Where do I start?' The interrelated nature of economic concepts, theories and models, along with a language all of its own, makes teaching Economics from scratch a bit like unravelling a cobweb - it is almost impossible to know where to begin. Many textbooks and specifications set off from different economic systems, but sometimes it seems that talk of the allocation in a free market, before any work on the functioning of the price mechanism, is inaccessibly abstract - if not downright obscure.

In addition to this, the modular nature of courses from KS4 upwards makes it difficult to impress upon students that, although we have 'finished' microeconomics for now, those demand and supply curves will come back to haunt you, so don't lock them away in your intellectual loft just yet. The subject is iterative and the 'capstone' of many courses is a synoptic paper, designed to test economic knowledge and abilities from across the whole syllabus.

Finally, in our Economics teaching, we are looking for a full continuum of skills from basic knowledge to high level evaluation and, moreover, students are required to demonstrate these over the course of one or two hours under exam conditions, after only two years of study.

So how can we, in our classroom practice, address the potentially conflicting demands in a way that achieves the dual outcome of ensuring our students do themselves justice in formal exams and come out of the process starting to think like economists?

At Reading School, we have recently undertaken a school-wide, student-led research project, using student observation and feedback to identify effective teaching and learning strategies. One message that stands out from the findings, across the curriculum, is that students find questioning in class an invaluable way of exploring the limits of their own knowledge, filling in gaps and applying concepts across a range of familiar and less familiar contexts.

From a teacher's point of view though, questioning can sometimes seem formless and lacking in direction, without specific or quantifiable objectives. The outcomes can be difficult to measure; students may not leave the lesson with written notes or handouts and it may be impossible to do questions justice on an OFSTED lesson plan.

So students find it useful, but teachers are apprehensive - can this be reconciled?

To some extent, the discussion below is simply a formalisation of what an experienced teacher already knows. It is, at best, a checklist by which we can reflect upon and evaluate our own practice to ensure that question and answer sessions conform to the general criteria of any effective learning situation, i.e. do the students know where they are, do they know where they need to be and do they know how they are going to get there?

The framework I use is abbreviated as the three EEEs of economic questioning: (Evoke, Embed and Extend) and aims to provide explicit structure to the intention, process and outcomes of class question and answer sessions.

* The first stage is about enabling students to recognise familiar signposts. This can involve looking at trends from data or clarifying the targeted concept, for example by a definition.

* The second stage is about providing a context. It is usually phrased in terms of cause or effect and marks the beginning of a process of identifying where a particular concept fits in the overall framework of the discipline. …