Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ask Questions-And Listen! Giving Students Time to Think Leads to Active Learning

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Ask Questions-And Listen! Giving Students Time to Think Leads to Active Learning

Article excerpt

As you enjoy your summer break, are you thinking about professional development--or spending time with friends and loved ones? How about combining the activities! Conversing with friends and family offers a chance to practice questioning techniques that can be used in the classroom.

To improve questioning, you must first be able to recognize the different types of questions and become more conscious of the way you ask them. A simple way to classify questions is to distinguish between those answered in a word or two and those requiring more involved responses. Short-answer questions are usually a single correct answer and are factual in nature (e.g., "What is the dissociation constant for acetic acid?"). In contrast, extended-response questions are often more cognitively demanding: Students have to think; figure something out; or otherwise apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information (e.g., "How would you distinguish between strong and weak acids?").

The effectiveness of extended-response questions is magnified by pausing, usually called "wait-time." This concept, credited to Mary Budd Rowe, was discussed extensively in my January 2008 column (Colburn 2008). The simple act of giving people time to think has a positive effect, is free, and requires the teacher to do less in the classroom, not more!

Asking open-ended questions and increasing wait-time takes conscious practice. Teachers may want to start out by writing two or three relevant open-ended questions before teaching a lesson. I keep a few all-purpose questions handy whenever students are working independently (e.g., "What are you observing?" or "What are you thinking?"). I also set up question stems that can be turned into worthwhile questions after observing or listening to students (e.g., "What do you think would happen if ...?" or "Why do you think ...?").

Wait-time is an acquired skill. We tend to be uncomfortable with silence after a question is asked. When you ask an open-ended question, try silently counting to five to allow students time to think. With practice, you will become increasingly comfortable with these small amounts of silence.

Remember that asking students to think this way represents something new for them, too. Students' initial reactions to your questions may be uncomfortable silence--they may think it is better not to speak than to risk giving a "wrong" answer. …

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