Every year I find that pairing the right math activity while asking specific questions can yield some amazing student learning experiences. I would assume that most math teachers would agree that only giving a specific solution to a student doesn’t necessarily help them understanding concepts. Offering solutions without feedback or questions can encourage students to care only about finding the answer. The act of “answer finding” limits understanding and diminishes curiosity.
When I started teaching I spoke constantly. I would give examples and statements that I thought would help all my students. Looking back, I spoke more than I should. As I progressed in my career I found that constructing a mathematical understanding doesn’t always ignite from just listening to the speaker. There’s a time and place for listening, but being engaged in the learning process is vital. I soon found that a balanced instructional approach was needed so I decreased the amount of talking and started to ask math related questions instead.
Although statements are beneficial, effective questioning techniques can provoke a response from the student. Offering guiding questions, or questions that encourage students to delve deeper in their explanation benefits the student. I feel like part of my job is to create an environment where students are able construct mathematical understanding. When students struggle with that understanding, questioning techniques can be another tool that teachers utilize. Questioning also helps students think more independently and explain their mathematical reasoning in a verbal or written form. Students need to be able to explain why and how they find solutions. This type of communication is an important skill to develop. Before planning on using questioning techniques in the classroom there are some important points to consider.
Students have to be open to answering the questions that are posed. In order for questioning techniques to work, students need to feel comfortable enough in the classroom to offer their ideas and explain their mathematical thinking. This environment is often intentionally built by creating a positive classroom learning community early in the school year. Students will often participate less if they feel as though their input isn’t valued.
Teachers can spend extensive time planning, but I find the best times to use effective questioning techniques are in the moment. Learning can be messy and teachers need to be able to have questions available depending on where students are in their mathematical understanding. I’ve seen great question techniques used in whole class and small group settings.
The questions that are posed truly matter. When I started teaching my questioning techniques were less than stellar. Through time I’ve learned to expect more from my students. When given a chance, students are fully capable of expressing their thinking. Teachers need to allow students opportunities to do just that. The questions should prompt a response from the student beyond yes or no. I want to get the students talking about their math process and learning.
Other classroom questioning resources are below.