According to one study, in English schools, teachers ask a question every 46 seconds. The average time a teacher allows between posing a question and accepting an answer is less than a second.
Imagine what this frequency of questioning must feel like to students. I would imagine such lessons would feel akin to an interrogation. While this may be concerning, consider what type of questions are being asked?
Asking good questions was something Ewan McIntosh looked at in a recent workshop I attended when he introduced us to the idea of the non-Googleable question.
He notes that most questions we ask are poor questions. We play the role of the village idiot who knows nothing and asks simple recall questions. Yet our aim is not to train students to be mind readers, guessing the correct answer that is in our head.
We play the role of the village idiot who knows nothing and asks simple recall questions.
McIntosh encourages us to start a lesson or a unit with the non-Googleable question. This is easier said than done. It is difficult to think of questions that cannot be answered with a quick search on Google. Go on, take a minute to come up with such a question. And before you propose ‘What is my favourite colour?’ as a non-Googleable question, you should know that questions must pass the ‘So what, who cares?’ test first.
Tricky, isn’t it?
We were given some examples to help us get started. Rather than asking, ‘What is the capital of Switzerland?’, we could ask ‘Why do people think Zurich is the capital of Switzerland?’. Don’t ask, ‘Is 2 a prime number?’, ask, ‘Why is it that 2 is the only even prime number?’ (- a better but not great question. For greatness see Harry Baker’s TED talk or that of Adam Spencer on the topic).
By improving the questioning stage we can stimulate higher learning. McIntosh is also a skilled practitioner in the questioning style of pose-pause-pounce-bounce. If you ask a good question it should be hard. It should take longer to answer.
McIntosh is not deriding the need-to-know basics of a subject, but rather advises that students find out the basics, the Googleable material, when energy levels are low (or in flipped classroom environments).
I hope to run a session within my department or at a future inset day on the non-Googleable question. As mentioned earlier, they are not easy to devise. In the meantime, I will certainly be considering how I can improve questioning in my lessons.