types of questions
I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.
But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.
Preparing one of the plenary sessions for the recent Teaching Professor Conference provided me the opportunity to do some more work on questions, which if you’re a regular reader of this blog you will recognize as an ongoing interest of mine for more than a year now. In fact, the post on May 28, 2014 is a reprint of an article I wrote for the March 2013 issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. It represents some of my early thinking on the topic, including ways of emphasizing questions in our teaching and modeling good question types for our students. The ability to ask good questions is often an underrated and underdeveloped skill, yet questions can play such a significant role in learning when used properly.
At one time or another, most of us have been disappointed by the caliber of the questions students ask in class, online, or in the office. Many of them are such mundane questions: “Will material from the book be on the exam?” “How long should the paper be?” “Can we use Google to find references?” “Would you repeat what you just said? I didn’t get it all down in my notes.” Rarely do they ask thoughtful questions that probe the content and stir the interest of the teacher and other students.
Good answers depend on good questions. That’s why we work so hard on the content of our questions and why we should work with students on how they ask their questions. What also helps to make questions good is asking the right type of question. It goes to intent—what we want in the way of an answer. The type of question we ask conveys this intent to the listener.