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Questioning Pattern

November 14, 2011

I had a great evaluation observation with one of my Assistant Principals today--I say great because my students were on point and performed above where I expected them to, and because my AP gave me valuable feedback despite the fact that she doesn't speak Spanish.

What my questioning looked like

My AP first reported to me what she observed about my questioning patterns. At the beginning of class, I'd call on a specific student and, with little wait time, require an answer. This was during the Campanada (the bellwork/entry task), so I am asking them questions that they have already processed.

Later on in the class, I called on specific students, gave them some wait time, and then affirmed their answer (if it was correct, I repeated it; if it was incorrect, I repeated it correctly). This was while we were going through a reading that was projected on the board, and the questions were comprehension questions.

Still later, I opened up questions to the whole class for voluntary responses. This was when I was asking personalized questions about the reading.

How to ask questions better

As she was reporting this back to me, I was pleased because I felt like my questioning techniques made sense for the purpose of each kind of question. However, she had some critical feedback:

Ask the question THEN name the student

My AP pointed out to me that calling on an individual student BEFORE I ask a question immediately allows other students to tune out. In order to hold all students accountable and keep them engaged, I need to ask the question FIRST, and then call on an individual student.

Afterward, I need to ask accountability questions to other students in the class (which I do sometimes, but not intentionally or habitually. These questions might include:

  • "Is __ correct?"
  • "Do you agree with __?"
  • "What did __ say?"

I think that this format is great, because it will expose students to vocabulary like "agree with" and "is correct", so students will be acquiring those terms as the school year progresses as well, even if we aren't focusing on them.

I don't love putting students on the spot (except when doing comprehension checks– and then I try to ask questions that I know that they know the answer to!), but this same sequence can be applied to small groups or when signaling the whole class for answers.

Questioning formula for teachers

Here is the formula that my AP recommended to keep ALL students engaged during questioning:

Here's the questioning formula:

Question + 3 or more seconds wait time + Name + 3 or more seconds wait time + Answer + Follow-up 

How much wait time is needed during questioning?

Research shows that native speakers of English need 3 seconds of wait time. My AP also knew that wait time for a native Spanish speaker (when processing Spanish questions) is 2.6 seconds!

I would expect that my students will need more than 3 seconds of wait time (that is the average wait time needed by English speakers) because they are performing in a second language.

Help your admins help you!

I am so thankful that this administrator was able to give me valuable critical feedback despite the language barrier! She did this on her own without me setting expectations for the lesson.

In the past, however, I have found that it is helpful to sit down with administrators before a lesson in a language class and tell them what to expect and what to look for. Help them to help you!

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