Pedagogy matters. Good pedagogy closes achievement gaps. Great pedagogy may even reverse them! When I speak about pedagogy I am referring to the instructional methods and approaches teachers have in their repertoire and deploy in their classrooms. The whole thing is both science and art, practice and theory, and because of its unquestionable power, every teacher must be concerned with it. This is not a post about pastoral care, neither is it a post about leadership. What I really want for you to become better at questioning. I’ve witnessed numerous ways in which questions have been posed ineffectively. And here’s a secret, I’ve been guilty of them all, But because great pedagogy is so important, I want you to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. Wait time How often has a question been asked with an implied expectation that the answer should be given within the next nanosecond? The technique of wait time helps to create a classroom culture where thoughtful responses are valued and encouraged. Here’s how it works. Instead of posing a question and immediately taking the first answer try waiting a few moments to make the practice more deliberate. You can even tell pupils they have thinking time. This space gives students time to think their answers through more carefully leading to better responses. I first learned this technique from Doug Lemov’s, Teach Like a Champion Stop doing this… After a concept or process has been explained, stop asking ‘do you have any questions?’ Good intentions notwithstanding, this form of questioning is very ineffective. It’s rare that an adult will share their lack of understanding in a group let alone a young person. For most of us, our egos won’t allow us to be that vulnerable in public. There are a number of more effective ways to gauge student understanding: a short low stakes quiz; a mini whiteboard activity;  explain it to a peer.  Get Socratic Named after the philosopher Socrates who lived in ancient Greece, this method involves a highly skilled form of deep questioning. It aims to allow the following: 1) get to the core of an idea, 2) sift out inaccuracies and flawed understanding so that we arrive at the purest form of knowledge and thought.  Here are some of the benefits of using the Socratic method:  
  1. it places greater cognitive demands on the students as opposed to the teacher carrying the intellectual load
  2. It acts as a form of ‘cold calling’ as anyone can be called upon to answer questions.  This raises the level of student participation and engagement.
  3. It forces the teacher to think about the quality of the questions they ask, thus potentially resulting in better quality answers.
  4. Because it’s enquiry based, it encourages students to think about the logical accuracy of their reasoning. This creates a culture where students are less likely to say the first things on their mind. Socratic environments encourage a deeper, more reflective and self regulatory form of thinking.
Multiple choice Once students have been taught the material you wish for them to learn, you will want to know what has stuck. In other words, what has moved from working  memory to long term memory. Multiple choice question tests are an effective way of finding this out. It should be understood that you will need to spread these tests out across various intervals. Giving students multiple choice tests just after material has been taught won’t tell you anything about whether students have stored the information in their long term memories. A strategic approach to using MCQ tests might look something like this (fig 1).
Fig 1
You might also want to find a way of storing the results. Personally I’m not a fan of clunky spreadsheets full of data. A simple grid style chart stuck in students’ books could be used to record the results of these tests. The main purpose is to respond to student misunderstandings in the moment as opposed to going away and analysing data. This is where something like mini whiteboards or lettered cards can be very handy. These techniques are just a few of my favourites. There are dozens of questioning techniques, from cold call to open and closed questions to students questioning each other. I may even write about these at some point. Above all, keep it simple and aim for effectiveness rather than any fancy or complicated ideas.