Research tells us that teachers ask 300-400 questions a day, and hence is paramount in a teacher’s tool box for engaging students, encouraging discussion, stimulating higher cognitive thinking and evaluating learning progress of students (Barry & Kind 1998). This powerful tool that is abundantly present in the teaching profession is often taken for granted and not used effectively.
I looked at Bloom’s taxonomy, for the framework categorising the types of questions found in classrooms (Alford, Herbert & Fragenheim 2006).
I observed that the majority of questions asked in class discussion and on worksheets were factual, knowledge based questions that involve recalling information such as “list 4 facts about the animal’s shelter”. Whilst asking this type of question was an effective tool for assessing student learning, questions didn’t extended beyond the facts, an extension question such as “what other animals can you think of that might live in a shelter like rabbit?” Or to compare shelters of other animals would have been appropriate for students to take the next step of applying, comparing and contrasting facts to extend students thinking (Alford et al. 2006).
Higher cognitive thinking invites a further understanding of content such as problem solving, making judgements, evaluation and reflection to name a few (Alford et al. 2006). These questions, whilst far more challenging, can still assess students knowledge, as facts are the basis of their justification of an answer, and also gives students ownership and a sense of power over their education by getting students to make a judgement and commit to an idea, allowing them to reflect on a particular issues with a ‘safety net’ of a teacher to point out any implications on their ideas, a Socratic style of questioning ( Barry & Kind 1998). It encourages and teaches children to make their own decisions not just in a classroom setting but also a life skill.
An example of where students were able to use their ‘Design’ or ‘Synthesis’ (high cognitive) thinking skills (Alford et al. 2006), was their maths lesson. Students had been learning about clocks and had to apply their knowledge of the properties and elements of time and clocks to make their own clock. Whilst the higher achievers came up with extraordinary designs, so too did the lower abilities, which proves that teachers should not be afraid of challenging their students in these higher areas of thinking even with the lower abilities.
I believe that planning questions is just as vital as planning the lesson (Barry & Kind 1998) as it adds to the growth to students academically and personally. I recognise that higher cognitive questions must be introduced sequentially and match student level but I do support Barry & King’s (1998) theory that we should include half of the total number or questions asked as high cognitive thinking questions. If students are not challenged by thinking in higher cognitive ways they can easily plateau. By getting students who struggle to extend themselves in the other ways of thinking, it creates an avenue for teachers to encourage their learning so they can move into higher cognitive levels. This relates to NSW Institue of Teachers Professional Standards Element 4 : Aspect 4.1.2 Demonstrate a range of questioning techniques designed to support student learning; and Element 5: Aspect 5.1.4 Provide clear directions for classrom activities for classroom activities and engage students in purposeful learning activities.
For more on Blooms taxonomy visit:
Alford, G., Herbert, P., & Frangenheim, E. (2006). Bloom’s Taxonomy Overview. Innovative Teachers Companion , 176 – 224. ITC Publications.
Barry, K. & King, L. (1998). Developing Instructional Skills. Beginning Teaching and Beyond, (3rd ed.), 144-167. Social Science Press.