How important are questions

August 20, 2008 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

I feel I want to hang on to all the advice I can get about asking questions. Asking good questions was a crucial part of working on the ENQUIRE helpline. It was also essential for the work I did consulting with children and young people.

When I was working for Enquire, I got some great questions from Michael Harker, an educational psychologist in Renfrewshire, to help people focus on solutions and goals rather than examining problems. Writing this has made me realise I haven’t kept those notes – oh no! I’ll write them up if my former colleagues can help me find them again. On the same theme, Highland Council has a helpful page of “goal questions”.

Courtesy of David Wilcox’s thoughtful and inspiring blog I also found this set of useful questions for eliciting stories, shared on the Anecdote website.

A common recommendation is to use an open, wondering approach, asking a mix of questions to build a rich picture of events, feelings and thoughts. This helps you avoid making assumptions and uncover all the essential details, which means you’re much more likely to be able to help the person. But, even better, it helps the other person clarify things and explore their options, which means they can help themselves.

I tripped over this idea again today. A little concerned about my mathematical shortcomings, I’ve just started using the self-evaluation toolkit on the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM) website. One piece of their advice for developing mathematical skills in the early years is:

Adopt a ‘softly, softly’, wondering approach rather than using too many direct questions:

I wonder if there are enough for everybody to have one…
How can you show us that your skipping rope is shorter than Ryan’s?[…]

There should be five red skittles. Shall we see if we have them all?[…]

I think this fits in with the bigger idea of teacher as facilitator rather than dispenser of information. And it also made me think maybe I have already got some of the skills I need to teach maths (at least to under 5’s – I haven’t read the rest yet). Good old questions.


Entry filed under: pedagogy.

Brush up your blog, and your maths – course starts Monday The 5-14 curriculum is heavy

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