Can you have a good lesson without questioning? I think the answer is no. Let's examine this further.
The real learning takes place when students talk to each other. High level questioning and collaborative learning activities are a must for a good lesson.
There are several ways that students will learn – and make progress – in your lesson.
Firstly - what is learning?
This is a big question which educationalists have researched, analysed and debated for years. Consequently, there is no one answer – but in essence it is
Most importantly for teachers is how do we ensure learning takes place?
Learning for progress has to be information which is embedded. That is, it becomes something which remains in our memory either in the short term or the long term. We need to make sure that new knowledge finds its way into students' long term memory so it can be recalled at a later date for examination purposes!
When it comes to planning lessons then, our choice of activity is vital. So how do we plan effectively? Some of this has already been examined in three earlier lesson planning blogs (Learning outcomes; Starters and Plenaries; Differentiation). Here we will look at the impact of certain types of activities on learning.
In the chart below I have plotted certain types of activities against the potential for learning of each. Note the role played by the teacher in both lesson preparation and lesson delivery.
We need to carefully balance teacher-led activities with those where the students can contribute more fully.
Chart examining type of activity and its learning potential
Here's a question for you - if an activity does not lead directly to learning – how long should you spend on it? What percentage of the lesson can afford to be teacher led, if the students are not actually able to make progress during this time? If you only have an hour – should you spend 30 minutes of that hour talking to the class when there is too little learning potential from this alone?
Here's another way of looking at it. Ultimately we want students to have the opportunities to make connections between new information and existing knowledge or experiences. This is what helps us to learn.
When you are planning your lessons therefore, consider the amount of teacher input compared to the amount of student input and its relationship to learning potential.
The chart below looks at both teacher and student input in relation to learning.
Teacher and student input v learning potential
Examine each of the boxes below - remember the aim is to get a balance between teacher and student input - with the aim of ensuring high learning potential.
Suggested tasks for your evidence portfolio:
1. When observing others next week, try to examine the percentage of teacher and student input, the types of activity and the learning potential of each.
2. Take a look at one of your earlier planned lessons and see if you can adapt it to enable a greater potential for learning and student input.
Think of your own ability to learn
We also need to understand the context of what we are about to learn.
If we have never seen a bike before, for example, or seen anyone riding one, the starting point of the lesson would need to change.
So new knowledge has to connect with our existing spheres of reference.
How does this affect our lesson planning?
Research shows that there are two main areas where learning takes place
Health warning: It is not possible in a short blog to do justice to either of these. I advise you to read around the subject, discuss it with your mentor, invite me in to deliver a session...!
A very basic summary of learning talk shows that there are two types of talk that you can spot in the classroom (amongst many others).
Presentational talk and Exploratory talk
Presentational talk is easy to spot.
It is seen when the teacher asks a question and a student answers it.
It is seen when a student, or groups of students, prepare and deliver a presentation.
In short, with this type of talk, we imagine that there has to be a right answer. When we put up our hand we want to sound knowledgeable, and to be right – even if we are just asked for an opinion, we don’t want to sound stupid!
The result of this may be that many students just sit quietly and listen to the others. You can sometimes see this in a question and answer session where not all students are involved.
Exploratory talk invariably happens when students are working in pairs or small groups (I advise no more than 4-5 students for optimum group work).
You can hear students trying out ideas amongst each other. There will be hesitations and thinking that appears not to be going anywhere – but this is where the real learning is taking place. They have taken an idea and are literally playing around with it whilst sorting out their own thinking.
Collaborative group activities have to be planned carefully and guidance given to the students to keep them on task – but this is one of the best ways of ensuring most – if not all – students are involved in the learning.
So – in your lessons you should
give opportunities for learning talk to occur
This means planning for questioning and collaborative learning activities.
While you may not be in a position to do this for yourself at this stage, you are in an excellent position to observe it in others!
Dr Sharon Williams