Classroom Management: Using Key Questioning Strategies

The practice of teaching relies heavily on strong communication skills. Below are 3 Key Questions used for promoting inquiry and learning.  These questioning strategies address effective communication in the classroom.  As teachers, we think of ourselves as a giver of knowledge, and so we naturally speak in class more than any of the students.  However, students can gain more insights, awaken academic curiosity, and form a stronger classroom community though engagement in academic discourse.  I find that by using these key questions, students are further engaged in class and the teacher does not have to prepare for classroom instruction quite so extensively.  These strategies involve relinquishing creative control to students, which can seem daunting, but in my experience, students are grateful for opportunities to take ownership of their instruction.  These questions are referenced from an article studied in my Fundamentals of Teaching Class.

Johnston, Ivey, G., & Faulkner, A. (2011). Talking In Class: Remembering What Is Important About Classroom Talk. The Reading Teacher, 65(4), 232–237.

Question #1: "Can you catch me up?"

Teachers will often assign readings and homework, then choose to begin the following class by following-up on the content.  But rather than summarizing the key elements yourself, let your students take ownership of the content by asking them to catch you up.   This practice incentivizes their reading, as they will know that they will need to be aware of the content to engage you and their peers the following day.  As the teacher, it allows you to observe what your students are most aware of, and any possible areas in which they may need guidance.

Question #2: "Did I miss anything?"

After a class discussion, summary, or introduction, consider asking your students if you missed anything of note.  By asking this question, you are once again allowing your students to take ownership of their instruction.  Perhaps a student will have an insight or perspective that you and the class had not yet considered.  Or perhaps a student will take this as an opportunity to address a question they had earlier.  In any case, by asking this question you are checking in with your students and making sure that they are comfortable moving on to the next part of your lesson.

Question #3: "Why do you say that?"

This essential question applies to many statements a student can make and offers them a chance to consider and expand on how they reached a particular conclusion.  It teaches students how to back up statements with evidence, or in some cases, recognize potential biases.  If a student has difficulty articulating why they are thinking a certain way, perhaps a classmate will feel the same and offer a suggestion, improving classroom bonds.  This simple question develops critical thinking, and engenders academic curiosity which will further engage them in the classroom an beyond. 


Classroom Floor Plan

This classroom floor plan was designed a part of a Literacy course.  It's a plan for a Grade 10 Drama classroom.  The desks are arranged to support face-to-face whole group democratic academic discourse.  They can also be moved easily within the space to facilitate groups as needed.  During my practicum, I utilized rotating learning centres as a way of allowing students to explore literature in smaller, more independent groups, and offer more specific guidance to a few students at a time.  There are various areas in the room to accommodate these learning centres as well as display student work and share reading materials.  I've learned during my practicum that a computer area is no longer necessary, as most students come to school with their own laptops or rent them from the school.  

This floor plan works to create harmonious classroom management because there are multiple, distinct physical spaces to engage students in a variety of ways.  The desks are also in equal physical relation to the teacher as they are speaking, preventing students from feeling less involved by sitting in the back.  Having students face each other and the teacher keeps them feeling connected to each other as classroom community, and encourages behavior which supports that.  The amount of open space in the middle allows for reduced anxiety as well as space to play for any classroom performances of presentations.  

This design mirrors my favorite literature courses from when I was a student.  In this type of configuration, I felt equal to my classmates, and felt that my academic contributions benefitted everyone instead of just myself.  I recall one of my teachers allowing us to peruse their classroom collections of books and plays and sometimes lending them to us as well.  This floor plan represents my physical concept for a classroom where students support each other academically, respect the the classroom as a mutual space, and feel safe and comfortable at all times.

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