As well as her plenary on teacher development, Margit Szesztay presented this very practical, classroom-focussed workshop on harnessing the power of questions. First of all, she asked participants to simply formulate one question we would like to ask, and then ask it to as many other participants as possible. We had questions like, ‘How can you inspire a mixed ability class?’, ‘How can we remember all the things we learn at the conference?’, ‘Do we want to teach English or educate more broadly?’ and ‘How can I improve my IT skills?’. She suggested doing this activity with students, pointing out the benefits in terms of finding more out about them and their pre-occupations.
In the main part of the workshop, Margit gave us a handout with a list of actual questions a teacher might ask at different stages in a lesson. Our task was to match these with a set of functions these questions might serve. These functions included, for example, establishing raport, focusing on the group, keeping discussion on track, offering choice, inviting creative thinking, encouraging reflection, probing and so on. We were shown that there is much more to classroom questioning than the formulaic IRF pattern, in which the teacher asks a question, a student responds and the teacher says, for example, ‘Good!’. We need to be much more supple than this in our use of questioning, and indeed, we mustn’t hog all the questioning to ourselves but also encourage students to formulate their own questions to you and to each other.
Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald