Questions for Bringing Your Instructional Practices into Focus

question marks - understanding our instructional choices

Nothing works quite as well as a good question when it comes to getting the intellectual muscles moving. Given the daily demands of most academic positions, there’s not much time that can be devoted to reflection about teaching. But good questions are useful because they can be carried with us and thought about now and then, here and there. And they can be chatted about with colleagues, in person or online.

The question set below was developed for a Teacher Beliefs Interview protocol that has been used to explore the beliefs of beginning secondary science teachers. The questions were derived from analysis of semi-structured interviews with more than 100 pre-service teachers.

These protocol questions are basic: They get to the bedrock on which most instructional practices rest. And they aren’t questions that are relevant only to beginning teachers, as this slightly edited version of them shows.

  • How do you maximize student learning in your classroom?
  • How do you describe your role as a teacher?
  • How do you know when your students understand?
  • In your [courses], how do you decide what to teach and what not to teach? [This could mean what content you opt to include, or it could mean how you decide
  • What you should cover and what students can learn on their own.]
  • How do you decide when to move on to a new topic in your classroom?
  • How do students learn [your subject matter] best?
  • How do you know when learning is occurring in your classroom?

There are many ways a question set like this can be used, starting with personal reflection. How long has it been since you’ve asked yourself questions like these? They are great questions for mentors to explore with those they are mentoring. Would it be worthwhile to tackle one or two of them in a departmental meeting? Could they be used to structure a faculty workshop or retreat session?

Do you think your answers to questions like these have changed over time, as you’ve changed or as students have changed? How interesting it would be to jot down some ideas and answers at the front end of a career and then to revisit them now and then across the years. Are the answers different depending on what course you’re teaching or the level of the students enrolled in the course? Teaching online would certainly change your answers. Does teaching online make it more difficult to answer these types of questions?

Reference: Luft, J. A., and Roehrig, G. H. (2007). Capturing science teachers’ epistemological beliefs: The development of the Teacher Beliefs Interview. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 11 (2), 38-63.

Reprinted from A Powerful Question Set, Teaching Professor, 29.6 (2015): 7. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.