Tony Gurr

A Questioning Culture – for the CLASSROOM this time!

In Classroom Teaching, Our Schools, Our Universities on 24/04/2012 at 1:21 pm

A couple of months ago I did a post on the need for institutions to create a “questioning culture” (actually, there was a second post, too).

Basically, my stream of bloggereah went something like this:

  • Questions are at the heart almost everything we think, feel and do as a species…
  • Despite the fact that we know good questions are at the heart of effective student, teacher and institutional LEARNing, many of the questions we ask in our schools, colleges and universities are pretty lame…
  • Ergo – many institutions remain ineffective, fail to move with the times and…are hell to work for!


Is it the same in our classrooms…acaba?


This weekend Edna Sackson (aka @whatedsaid) treated me (and a fair few others) to another great post on her blog – What Ed Said. She outlined the really creative and collaborative way she had got her head around what a “lifelong learner profile” could (or should) be – and what it should not be!

As a bonus, she also introduced me to Ron Ritchart’s “8 Cultural Forces” (from his book – Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why it Matters, and How to Get It):

For Ron these “forces” define what a “thinking classroom culture” is all about – and Ed drew on these (and some ideas from her PLN – #pypchat) to describe a whole range of classroom practices that help “create” the type of learner profile we all want…need…to see in our classrooms! Do try and take a look at her post HERE.

What Ed and Ron got me thunking about was the tools we use to breathe life into these forces – yani, what we teachers do with what we know about with these things. What struck me was the one common tool that we all use – our questions!


The TEACHer in me thought it might be a good idea to get down some solid “advice” for us all on the ole blog – but then, I remembered something from last week.

At a teacher training seminar I was doing (on “Speaking Skills” for ELLs) I posed a few questions to participants:


What hit me (like a truck) as I encouraged people to “answer” these questions for themselves was that many teachers simply did not have answers to these questions – they did not “know” (though they all promised to find out the next week)…


Bearing this in mind, I wondered if the same situation would arise if we modified these questions about teacher-talking-time to questions about questions. For example:


I got these out to a few “guinea pigs” as bit of an e-straw poll!

Same response… “Tony, we don’t know for sure”! Actually, a few people said things that were a bit more colourful than that…and one even threatened to “de-friend” me on facebook!

But, again…most said they’d love to find out.


For many of us, the questions we ask in the classroom are a great way of communicating knowledge and checking the quality of learning – however, the questions we ask of students are perhaps one of the best tools we have to role-model attitude, expectations, abilities – and thunking!

I know lots of teachers who have boned up on web-based resources on questioning techniques (there are some great resources out “there”) – but it seems to me that a wee bit more of a focus on “action research” would be a far better way to start:

  • Using recordings of ourselves in class with our students – and listening
  • Asking a “critical friend” to pop into a class or two for us – and listening
  • HEY, even getting students involved as a “question monitors” – and listening


Once we get a bit of data on “the numbers” (our own numbers), we could then perhaps do a bit of “data mining” – through other questions:


Teachers can benefit from looking at other things, too – for example:


They can also push the envelope a little further and consider:


Then, do some serious “heavy-lifting”:


Looking back at these “reflection” questions, I’m glad I choose to ask “TEACHer Tony” to take a back seat today. It’s not just advice from “others” that will help us create a questioning culture in our classrooms – it’s asking questions of our own practice that really matters…


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