School Management - The Art of Questioning
( Originally Published 1897 )
Importance of this Art -The most valuable method of conducting a recitation is the question method. The teacher who knows how to question his class has fairly mastered the pedagogic art. The prime object of teaching is to get pupils to think rightly. Judicious questioning is the best means of arousing mental activity. To secure intellectual growth the attention of the child must be arrested, his interest in the subject created or intensified, definiteness of thought promoted, studious habits cultivated, and energy and enthusiasm aroused. In no way has the teacher greater power to secure good results than by the use of the question method of teaching. It affords pupils a valuable training in readiness of thought and speech. It promotes mental development, and secures good discipline.
" Effectively used it should spur the indolent, stimulate the sluggish, challenge the inattentive, restrain the forward, control the rash, expose the careless, encourage the timid, and help the dull; and, at the same time, it should fully employ the more intelligent members of the class in such a way as to make available the know-ledge of individuals for the benefit of all."-Landau.
Objects of Questioning.-It is the object of questioning to give proper direction to the thoughts of the learner, to ascertain what he knows of the subject, to detect and correct any errors into which he may have fallen, to bring out the important details of the subject, to unfold the principles involved, to foster self-effort in the discovery of truth, and to train to habits of reflection.
Before adding to the information of a pupil, the extent of his knowledge should be ascertained. Unless this course is taken, the instruction given may not be adapted to his mental requirements, and the teaching may become too easy or too difficult, and perhaps wearisome by its monotony and lack of power to stimulate. With suitable questions the attention may be directed to facts already known, and in this way knowledge may be fixed in the mind. Self-activity calls into play the processes of analysis and synthesis, those of induction and deduction, and the exercise of the reasoning powers. The thoroughness of the knowledge will determine the amount of drill that may be desirable before additional instruction is imparted. Vague ideas should be made definite, and mistakes corrected before new ground is entered upon. This may require numerous questions, careful explanations, and clear expositions. At the same time, the power of correct expression is cultivated, and the clear connection between words and ideas becomes a settled feature of mental development.
When the knowledge of the pupil is tested another purpose of questioning is presented. To train the child is more important than to measure the extent of his know-ledge. Training is impossible unless interest (Chapter XIV.) is aroused. Suitable questions excite curiosity, remove obscurity, and produce self-activity. Discoveries inspire zeal, create confidence, and lead to habits of self-education. A question will often secure the attention of pupils when they would otherwise remain listless. Habits of inattention among pupils are generally the outcome of defective questioning. No mode of putting questions to a class and no style of questions can be defended, that will not arouse in the pupils a spirit of enquiry and habits of self-questioning.
"Clearly, the intellectual habit can be formed by logical questioning and by this alone. The pouring out processes, whether by text-books, that copiously explain the easy and are silent on the difficult, or by teachers who, with a fatal flow of words, explain everything, works against independent investigation and the growth of power. The wordy teacher has been referred to ; the wordy annotator deserves a passing notice He is more to be dreaded than the wordy teacher. The young learner will sometimes venture to question the scientific or literary accuracy of the oral instructor ; but he receives with unquestioning reverence the printed statements of the annotator."-.McLellan.
Abuse of Questioning,-The best methods of instruction may be abused. Questioning is the best means, but not the only good means, of conducting a recitation. The lecture or the conversational method may be occasionally employed. The use of illustration cannot be ignored. The results of the teacher's efforts will often point out the course to adopt. It may be well to tell pupils the facts at times. Excessive questioning confuses and bewilders.
" Many teachers use questioning as though it were an end in itself, and fail to see that it is easy to over-question to such an extent as to retard the teaching, and smother up the point to be learned in a cloud of answers. This purposeless questioning has done much to bring the device into disrepute. Directly the object is gained, the teacher should pass on. Anything beyond what is necessary for clear understanding and firm grasp only bewilders the children, and darkens what it should illuminate. Not unfrequently, too, in teaching, a large amount of time is wasted in endeavoring to question from children ordinary matters of fact, which they can only learn by being told directly. To question again and again in the hope that the point may be gained, or arrived at by a process of exhaustion, is to misunderstand completely the use of questioning, and is not only stupid but blameworthy."-Landon.
The Teacher's Prerequisites.-The questioner requires to have the qualifications of the teacher (Chapter VII.) in an eminent degree. A knowledge of the subject of instruction is essential. His attainments should embrace not only an extensive acquaintance with the subject itself, but a knowledge of kindred branches. The primary teacher has great need of wide culture, in view of the great skill required to question young pupils. The preparation of the lesson is essential (Chapter XIII.). Bad preparation leads to feeble teaching and to indifference on the part of pupils.
The teacher needs a thorough training of the analytic faculty. Dull teaching is the product of an untrained mind. A logical method of thinking is essential as a factor in producing a right order in the arrangement of questions. To know how to train children, a knowledge of child nature is indispensable. The teacher who success-fully uses the question method must observe the workings of the mind. No amount of scholarship will make up for ignorance of the laws that govern mental action. Unless the teacher has a full appreciation of the pupil's condition of mind, both as to capacity and degree of attainments, the instruction will lack proper direction. The special laws of suggestion and association must be understood, An intelligent grasp of the conditions and peculiarities of the learners is essential. The teacher must be able to frame his own questions. The exact question to put to a class must often be determined at the moment.
The personality of the teacher is the most powerful element in his qualifications as a questioner. Heart-power as well as head-power is requisite. Scholarship will not supply the defects that come from the lack of such elements as energy, sympathy, enthusiasm, decision of character, and that insight into human nature which marks the man of keen judgment. To arouse the dull is a constant duty of the successful teacher. To help the weak, to develop the intelligence of the indolent, and to implant habits of right thinking in all members of the class will demand teachers who are stout-hearted and strong brained. Excellence can be attained only by intelligent practice. The beginner will make mistakes, but if he knows his errors there is hope of improvement and possibly of ultimate success. The most eminent teachers are those who recognized their failures and made repeated efforts to triumph over difficulties.
The Subject-Matter of Questions.-A good question is definite, and, as far as possible, it should admit of only one answer. Obscurity in the language of a question may lead to incorrect answers. Questions should be pertinent. Irrelevant questioning is often due to want of proper preparation. Questions should sometimes be asked that cannot be answered from the text-book, but they should have a bearing on the lesson.
Questions should be accompanied with no useless verbiage in the way of introductory phrases. The language should embrace no more words than are necessary. A clumsy or slipshod way of stating a question is unfair to children. It should not be necessary, as a rule, to repeat a question, or to change the form in which it is expressed. A change may, however, be essential if the question has not been clearly stated, or if the ability of the students has been overestimated. Several short questions are better than one long one.
Questions should be properly graded. They should be sufficiently difficult to necessitate effort. Inattention, carelessness, habits of guessing, and superficiality, result from the use of questions that may be answered without mental effort. The capacity of different pupils must be recognized. It will not do to discourage either the dull or the bright pupils. It is no uncommon thing to find teachers giving questions that demand answers of greater length or hardness than the attainments of the pupils warrant.. Such teaching bewilders children, and causes them to become discouraged and to relax intellectual effort. A series of easy questions may be what is needed to secure the end desired. It is a mistake to ask young pupils questions that demand a long process of reasoning. Easy questions and also more difficult ones may be necessary where pupils in a class differ much in their attainments. Teaching that does not stimulate is worthless. Verbal repetition or constant drill on what is well known is useless and pernicious. Questions that are not suggestive fail to promote mental development. Occasionally questions may be put beyond the power of the majority of the class. They give interest to the bright pupils, and - prevent them from growing discouraged or listless. A few hard questions for the class to think over are serviceable. So far as possible, the questions on the lesson should be exhaustive. If confined to a part of the lesson, the value of due proportion is overlooked.
Form of Questions.-Questions should be put in concise form. If expressed in long sentences the pupils lose the idea. To gather the exact meaning the language must be precise. Ambiguous questions fail to train in habits of definite thought.
Questions should be varied in form and in degree of difficulty. Monotony wearies. Undue simplicity does not train. Questions, if too hard, discourage. A lack of variety in framing questions leads to like defects in answering. The wording of questions should depend upon how far the pupils understand the subject. With young children it may be necessary to ask the same information on different days in a changed form. The mental exercise involved in giving the answer will determine the degree of difficulty which the question should assume. The ability of the child to express his thoughts fluently, his acquaintance with the subject, and his physical condition, must not be overlooked. . Categorical questions, or such as call for direct and positive answers, create life and interest young pupils. In reviews the topical method is very valuable. Problems to be solved, translations to be made, and exercises to be written, are highly important forms of questions for advanced classes.
Questions should be put in grammatical form. A statement or an ellipsis changed into a question is objectionable. The choice of words in asking questions is important. It is a common error with teachers to have no clear idea of what they mean until the question is partly framed. The wording is often altered before the question is finished. Defects of this kind give pupils bad models in oral composition.
Questions should be put in an engaging way as well as in an attractive form. A cheerful, appreciative, lively and sympathetic manner on the part of the teacher has great influence in securing ready responses to his questions. Vivacity and pleasantness, an animated and conversational style of questioning, and the absence of formalism will induce pupils to do their best, will banish drowsiness and indisposition to effort, and will prevent them from flagging or becoming wearied of the lesson. The teacher must be natural in his manner.
"Some teachers make the mistake of being fussy and bustling, which is tiresome and disconcerting ; others of being stilted and magisterial, which is chilling and depressing ; a few of being too exacting, and correcting mistakes in a harsh, snappish way, which renders the children afraid to answer, and eventually silences them. "-Landon.
Order of Questions.-Questions should follow one another in systematic order. Each should seem to grow out of the answer which preceded it. A loose, disconnected, random set of enquiries, which have little logical relation, is very objectionable. Rambling questions prevent continuous thinking, lead to confusion, and discourage pupils. Examination questions may, however, be occasionally discursive. To be effective, all that the questions embrace should be coherent and connected. Lawyers study the art of questioning, as is shown by the connected, straightforward story they are able to get from a timid but honest witness. Any irrelevant or needless matter that is introduced does not turn the barrister aside from the purpose he has in view. The sum of the replies given to the questioner, as reported in the press, reads like a consistent narrative.
Short digressions may be unavoidable and essential. Hard words and incidental statements may need explanation. New trains of thought may call for consideration. There may be good reasons for bringing in illustrations, and even an occasional anecdote. Logical consistency does not require the teacher to be the slave of mechanical routine. The concentration of studies is sound in principle, but the correlation of studies should also be recognized It is possible that a question in grammar, or even in arithmetic, would not be pedagogically out of place in giving a lesson in history. Still, it will not do to lose sight of the main purpose of the recitation. All needless digression should be carefully avoided. Incidental difficulties and matters that pertain to other recitations should not beguile a teacher into a neglect of the truths which primarily belong to the lesson.
Objectionable Questions.-The method of instruction by means of answers to set questions from a book is antiquated. There are but few subjects that can be properly taught in this way. Questions should be in the teacher's own words. The catechism form of instruction is at variance with sound principles of teaching. The living voice and the spontaneous effort are essential. In training the intellectual faculties, the sequence of facts, thoughts, or ideas is more important than any clear apprehension or expression that comes disconnectedly. Whatever value, by way of suggestion, questions at the end of a chapter may be to teacher or pupil, the plan of depending solely on them is to be condemned. If the teaching is confined to them, the logical arrangement of facts is slighted and the pupils get only a partial knowledge of the truth. The catechetical method of question and answer has disappeared wherever improved systems of teaching are adopted.
Questions that simply require a yes or no answer should be used only occasionally. They may at times save time and arouse a class to activity. The same objection holds to any questions that encourage guessing, Those of alternate forms, where either of two answers is right, are bad. Elliptical questions, where the pupil is expected to complete a sentence of which the teacher has given a part, have seldom much educative value. For young pupils such questions, if given occasionally, may help to keep up the continuity of the lesson. For advanced classes a method that habituates them to give direct and independent answers is required. All questions that include or suggest the answer give little benefit. There should be nothing in the voice of the teacher, in any gesture he makes, or in any expression of his face, that will give a clue to the required reply.
Questions that from the extent of information required, or from their vague, pointless, or ambiguous form, simply perplex, serve no good purpose. The interests of the pupils are too important to have any part of the recitation occupied in merely "killing time." All haphazard, silly, pert, or pedantic questions are out of place. The design of good questioning is to train pupils to clear and earnest thinking. Inattention, thoughtlessness and indifference are fostered by objectionable methods of questioning.
Kinds of Questions.-Testing Questions. These are used to determine the quantity and quality of the know-ledge, skill and power which pupils have acquired. They may be merely preliminary, tentative, or experimental. They enable the instructor to feel his way, to sound the depths of the previous knowledge of the pupils, and to prepare them for the reception of what is to be taught. They may also be used for purposes of examination. What the teacher has to communicate must be joined on to what the pupils already know. Besides clearing the way for the lesson, tentative questions promote effort, create interest, whet the mental appetite, and prepare the pupils for their intellectual meal. Such questions are required at the opening of the recitation to arrange the ground-work of the lesson, to turn the thoughts of the pupils into the right groove, to arouse the curiosity, and to foster the desire for knowledge. Throughout the lesson such questions enable the teacher to preserve attention, to discover how far he has been understood, to see in what direction caution is needed, to know what weak points must be strengthened, to ascertain what misconceptions must be corrected, and to determine what difficulties must be removed. At the end of a division of the lesson or at the close of the recitation, testing questions are also valuable. They fix in the minds of the pupils the facts that have been taught, point out necessary relations, emphasize leading truths, supply deficiencies and correct errors.
Training Questions. These are used to develop fresh ideas out of what is known. They are instructive, because new information is acquired; illustrative, because they throw light on what is known; and educative, because they bring into active exercise the powers of the pupils. Their main purpose is to get the pupils to discover new facts for themselves, by guiding them through easy processes of thought or reasoning. At first training questions do little more than give such direction to the thoughts as may make relationships clear. They simply appeal, in the early stages of the child's mental growth, to the powers of observation and to the exercise of the memory. Subsequently they present easy steps in the processes of analysis and induction, and encourage children by giving them a knowledge of what they can accomplish by themselves. It is assumed that what pupils find out is more valuable to them than what they are told. Training questions direct attention forward to the unknown, and cultivate connected thinking, rapidity of apprehension, and ready expression. It should be understood that no amount of questioning will furnish pupils all the information they require. A great deal must be gained from books or from the teacher's explanations. Unfortunately too little is frequently left to the pupil to discover. It is too often the custom to look for text-books that have everything presented in a cut-and-dried form," and to expect the teacher to make his instruction so lucid that students will be saved the hardship" of exercising their brains. The evil here referred to will grow less if examiners set questions to test intellectual power and skill, rather than to test knowledge (Chapter XVL).
The two classes already mentioned show the essential features of the various kinds of, questions. It is customary to apply names to different groups of questions, according to their more specific duties. The Socratic method of questioning has already been described (Chapter XIII.). The terms preliminary, tentative, experimental, recapitulatory, categorical, illustrative, examinatory, instructive, educative, etc., sufficiently explain what is meant. In each case the real object is to test the knowledge of the pupil, or to train his intellectual powers. It should also be observed that the purposes of some questions may be both testing and training, and that the specific functions of a question may be of two or more kinds.
Class Questioning.-A person may know how to instruct an individual pupil, and yet fail to give questions that answer the purposes of class instruction. The whole class, and not one pupil, has to be considered in giving questions. The difficulties to be met arise from the varied attainments of the pupils, the large number in the class, the different points of view from which the subject matter is considered, and the necessity of keeping all interested in their work. It becomes essential to preserve the interest of the other members of the class when one pupil is questioned, and to study the utmost economy of time that is consistent with efficient instruction. In some subjects, like reading, individual tests cannot be dispensed with. In all subjects the methods of class questioning should never ignore individual instruction. The interests of all the pupils, and especially the needs of the most backward, must be kept in mind. Showers of questions and answers in rapid succession do not indicate effective teaching. Generally such methods are not conducive to right thinking. There are some characteristic modes of putting questions to a class that should be noticed :
The Simultaneous Method. In this method the questions are put to the whole class, and the pupils answer in concert. If insight and caution are exercised it gives life to the recitation. It saves time, stimulates a dull class, and encourages timid children.
It has serious defects-makes a show of work, deludes the teacher and pupils regarding results, smothers individual effort, and fosters the habit of relying on others. It lessens individual responsibility, develops a noisy manner in children, leads to superficial knowledge, affords poor mental discipline, and supplies no reliable means of testing information. If used at all it should be used with constant vigilance. Children are too ready to chime in with a few leaders in the class, and unless the teacher is watchful he may be deceived regarding the value of some answers. Occasionally all the pupils may be expected, when a signal is given, to answer simultaneously, and where a training in smartness is needed, a recourse to this method has some advantages.
The Consecutive Method. In the case of this method questions are addressed in succession to several pupils individually. The questions are put to them one after another in some definite order. There is a saving of time by this plan since each member of the class recites in turn, and it is not necessary to name the pupils. The certainty of being asked causes each to be on the alert when his turn comes. The teacher gives the questions and receives the answers without being obliged to call upon the pupils to answer. All the pupils have an opportunity of answering, and none are overlooked. When there are few in a class this method may be found satisfactory. In a large class the method to be valuable requires the teacher habitually to direct questions out of the order followed.
The consecutive method has also its defects. It fails to secure close and universal attention. When a pupil gets his question he is inclined to let his mind wander till his turn comes again. There is danger that pupils will pre-pare only what they expect to be called upon to answer. The custom with pupils in former times of calculating what verse or word would come to them was a result of this method. The consecutive method prevents a thorough testing of the attainments of the class. There is no certainty that each pupil will receive the question best suited for himself and for the entire class. The careless pupil is virtually abandoned.
The Promiscuous Method. Generally the best way of asking a question is to address the whole class. Each pupil should understand that he may be expected to reply. In stating the question no sign should be shown that would indicate who is to answer. It may be necessary to ask some one to repeat the question. The main thing is to secure that every pupil is on the alert. Each question should be given to that pupil who, with due regard to the interests of the class, stands in most need of receiving it. Directly a child begins to gaze about he may receive the question. This method has the great advantage of enabling the teacher to apply a proper distribution of tests. The idle pupil may be asked to recite, the inattentive one called to order, the clever one required to explain for the benefit of the backward, and the questions distributed in such a way as will do most good.
Though the promiscuous method is better than the simultaneous or the consecutive plan, yet it has some defects and certain limitations. It is slow, and in a large class some pupils may be overlooked. There is the danger that the bright pupils may receive too many questions, or that the dull ones may be unduly called upon by a severe teacher.
Combined Methods. The skilful teacher makes a wise combination of different methods. While mainly adopting the promiscuous method, he makes use, to some extent, of the consecutive plan, so that no pupil may be overlooked. Now and then animation is secured by requiring all the pupils to answer simultaneously. If he goes from one pupil to another in a certain order he holds each one in the class responsible, and frequently gives a suitable question to a pupil out of the order. One member of the class may be called upon to give a translation or to solve a problem, and the attention of the rest may be kept up by calling promiscuously for short answers to simple questions on the topic under consideration. At times all who think they an answer may be required to stand ; or better still, these unable to answer the question may be asked to rise. The stereotyped method of getting pupils to raise their hands if prepared to answer, and calling upon one of them, is objectionable. It should not be assumed that only some members of the class are prepared to recite. If the classification is satisfactory every pupil should be expected to have mastered the subject. Children should be encouraged to ask questions of the teacher. This plan will serve to banish the idea of drudgery from the minds of the pupils, and will furnish the teacher further opportunities for putting suitable questions to them. Sometimes it is a relief from routine work to allow children to question one another. An exercise conducted in this way often affords a pleasing relaxation and a useful training in self-confidence and readiness of reply. Sometimes written answers, instead of oral ones, should be given to questions. The written exercises may be considered or compared at the time, or may be examined and discussed the next day the subject is taken up. In short, the needs of a class require the teacher to adopt such devices in class questioning as are best calculated to secure the right kind of thinking from each pupil.
Answers to Questions.-The teacher should give pupils sufficient time to think before calling for the answer. Hurry is a hindrance to learning. Unnecessary delays should not be allowed. Except in small classes, pupils should stand when answering questions. A becoming attitude must be insisted upon. A slovenly or conceited manner should not be allowed. Pupils should not be permitted to shout out their answers, to give them in a monotonous drawl, or to put them in such an indistinct and mumbling way that only a few words can be heard. A natural tone of voice should be required. Promptness should be encouraged, and also aptness in putting ideas in the best form of words.
Exactness of expression is an important quality of good answering. The answers should be to the point, and should not include superfluous information. They should be clear, concise, comprehensive, and free from haziness of conception and vagueness of language. Indefiniteness should be discouraged. The form of answers will vary with the subject and the age of the pupils. Complete answers are desirable, but partial ones must often be accepted. It is not necessary that all oral answers should be incomplete sentences. No doubt pupils may be helped in Accuracy of language, by being required to express their thoughts at times in this way. To insist always upon this mode of answering would make the recitation slow, formal, tedious, and even ridiculous. Simplicity of wording, well-considered replies, originality of thought, and brightness of manner should be aimed at. Pupils should be trained to answer questions in their own language. Written replies may be needed. Oral answers will not always do. Written examinations (Chapter XVI.) are an indispensable element in training. The reproduction of a subject is the only sure test that the subject has been mastered.
Guessing is a common fault in answering questions. A little wholesome ridicule will stop the practice. Some pupils have a reckless way of giving answers. There is no excuse for allowing a child to jump at a conclusion or to blurt out whatever first comes in his head. Vague answers are often the result of vague questions. In oral answers, and even in written answers, there are often shown much indefiniteness and the introduction of matter that has little to do with the subject. Pupils should be trained to keep to the point, to avoid any unnecessary display of knowledge, and to indulge in no speculative answers or foolish forms of expression.
Criticism of Answers.-Correct answers should be accepted and commended. It is not necessary that a teacher should use some stereotyped phrase to express his approval. A pleasant, appreciative way of receiving the answer will generally be enough. Answers that are wholly wrong should be rejected. Sharp and uncalled for criticism is out of place. A snappish, sarcastic or contemptuous style of condemning wrong answers does no good, but much harm. Criticism should be discriminative. Honest mistakes are better than the absence of effort. Bad answers are not always an evidence of thoughtlessness. When an answer contains a mixture of truth and error, care must be taken to get at the bottom of the difficulty, and to help the pupil to find his own blunders. If answers are slow and full of errors, it should cause the teacher before criticising, to consider, that perhaps his method of teaching is defective. Care should be taken that timid pupils are not discouraged by harsh or unwise criticism. Any criticism offered should be such as will benefit the pupils. Faulty answers may be turned to good account by a skilful teacher. The correction of errors should never lead to unnecessary digressions or lectures on industry, or on any other feature of good conduct. Good answers should not be refused because they are not in the particular form expected by the teacher. Except in rare cases the teacher should not answer his own questions. He should not prompt any pupil to answer, and he should allow no prompting by any member of the class. The habit which some teachers have of repeating mechanically the answer is objectionable. No time should be wasted over answers, and any " splitting of hairs " is foolish. A pupil's self-activity is repressed, rather than promoted, by requiring perfect answers, or by insisting on those that conform to some particular model. If an answer is partly wrong and partly right, it may be that thought has been exercised and that judicious help may guide the pupil into clearer light. Credit, if due, should be given.