What are skills of an effective questioner?


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This is a question any school serious about improving their students' questioning needs to seek an answer to.


As one searches the internet, and other resources, to find out what the skills of an effective questioner are an interesting picture emerges. The bulk of the resources available do not actually address the skills of an effective questioner, what the bulk of them seem to address is the types of questions a questioner may ask.

I can see how an awareness of different question types may help a student to ask a wider range of questions, however I feel that we can do much more for our pupils then just increase their repertoire of question types.

To explain this position let me give an example:

If child A has had no exposure to any information on questioning other than listening to what is modeled by other people as they interact around him/her, then the quality of their questioning will controlled by the modeling and that child’s own curiosity and vocabulary levels.

Child B however, has had exposure to the concepts of closed and open questions as well as exposure to whatever questioning is modeled around him/her. Their questioning ability is likely to be a little more enhanced because of an increased understanding. They are likely to be aware of the two question types and possibly use them more appropriately than child A, who has had no exposure to any concepts of these two question types.

Child C, to take the analogy further, has had exposure to the concepts of open and closed questions, fertile questions, probing questions and a matrix of question types built around Bloom’s taxonomy. This child is far more likely to be equipped to ask a wider range of questions than the other two children.

So far what I have discussed here is knowledge and understanding of question types, and I believe that questioning skills is a totally different concept.

Question Types: an issue of knowledge and understanding.
It is obvious that any one who has had exposure to a wide range of question types is likely to have more knowledge and understanding than a person who has not had this exposure. It also seems logical that a person with this knowledge and understanding is in a better position to be able to ask a wide range of question types. On this basis exposure to, and modelling of, a wide range of question types seems to be something that is worth doing for our students if we want to facilitate them into being better questioners. But by doing so we are addressing a knowledge and understanding issue as we raise their awareness of a range of question types.
Questioning Skills: an issue of competence.
It takes more than just knowledge or understanding of different question types to make someone a good questioner. I have seen students who have had exposure to a wide range of questioning types and yet their own questioning skills are limted. i have also seen students who have had little exposure to a range of question types but have ben able to demonstrate a high level of questioning skill. This has led me to focus in on determining the skills that someone who is an effective questioner has. To start with I have tried to identify the competencies they demonstarte as an effective questioner.
A Confusion: question types are often identified as 'skills'.
I have spent a lot of time searching for lists of the skills an effective questioner needs to have. Nearly every resource I have found based round the concept of 'questioning skills' has turned out to be related to 'question types' rather than the actual skills that build questioner competence. This means that our students may well be missing out on some very useful and important skills that will raise their competence as questioners.



So what are Questioning skills?

Questioning skills are the skills that allow learners to ask quality questions. A child with good questioning skills is better equipped to ask any type of question than a child with exposure to a wide range of question types but who has limited questioning skills. The suggestions below are the result of 3 years of looking at student’s as they create questions within Inquiry learning based classrooms. I am not suggesting that these are all the questioning skills, rather they are perhaps a foundational set to assist students on the way to being effective questioners.


Foundational Questioning Skills:


1... The questioner needs to be aware of a need for information.
This is the focusing drive that fuels questioning.
2... The questioner needs to be able to clarify what information is needed.
An awareness of need is the start, but clarification of what information is needed will empower them to ask questions to extract the needed information.
3... The questioner needs to be aware of a base set of vocabulary that is relevant to the context or issue.
Without this it will be very difficult for the questioner to be able to phrase relevant questions.
4... The questioner then needs to be able to ask a range of relevant questions.
This goes beyond the concept of asking a range of question types. It is no point being able to ask a range of question types of which none are relevant to the context and the information need.
5... The questioner needs to be able to take that range of relevant question to a range of appropriate resources.
Again it becomes obvious that being able to ask a range of questions is inadequate in its own right, especially if the questioner consistently takes those questions to non-relevant sources.
6... The questioner needs to be able to persist in their search for the answer/s and also to be able to edit their questions as necessary.
Often a questioner will start out with a key word in their question like 'build' and through the process of questioning realise that it would be more powerful or appropiate to use the synonym 'construct'. This is a simple example of the sort of editing an effective questioner may make as they diligently search for an answer across a range of sources.

Summary
I will contend that exposure to a range of question types is not exposure to questioning skills.
We need to go beyond this with our students and also deliberately target the competencies of asking effective questions.
The two aspects, understanding of a range of question types, and devlopment of questioning competencies, will go together very powerfully to empower students as effective questioners.

The skills outlined above are the foundation for the QuESTioning rubric.