Tip #11, of the 13 tips for online learning identified in a study conducted by the Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL), is about giving learners the chance to ask questions. Although this is something that may seem obvious, it has such a large impact on learning gains that it needs to be called out as a best practice.
About the study
The study, A Study of Best Practices in Edmentum Online Solutions, evaluated the relationship between student learning and effective teacher pedagogical practices in online learning. The study specifically looked at Edmentum’s online solutions in three instructional settings—pure virtual, blended, and classroom/lab—across four purposes: original credit, credit recovery, intervention, and Advanced Placement®.
Tip #11: Allowing students to ask questions during a course/assignment
A teacher’s dream class is full of bright, inquisitive minds looking to explore the world’s knowledge. Hands always go up. Questions are always thoughtful and on point.
So, you would think that teachers take any question at any time during a lesson in an effort to generate that sort of atmosphere in their classroom. That’s not the case at all. In an effort to stick to schedules and keep an orderly room, questions are often saved until last or not welcomed at all. This is obviously not a model in which to engage young students in the process of learning. Questions should come whenever learners feel the need.
What are the best ways to allow students to ask questions?
There are ways to help students develop questions that help the whole class progress through the content while also keeping them limited to appropriate times.
First, make your expectations clear. State that questions are welcome at almost any time during the class. Ask the class not to interrupt while someone is speaking and to try to keep questions to the topic at hand. Make these policies available and easily visible as a reminder to learners.
Second, you need to model the best questioning practices throughout the year. When students are speaking, ask questions that drive the conversation forward. Wait for them to finish a thought before launching in. Correct bad questioning technique whenever you see it.
How do you motivate students to engage and ask their questions?
Many students are shy about asking questions or speaking in class. Instead of forcefully calling on them, introduce some randomness into the procedure by drawing cards or Popsicle sticks with each student’s name on them. Or use Post-it notes and a poster to let students leave a question or comment about the day’s lesson anonymously as they leave the room.
Another idea that uses some technology is the idea of backchanneling. Backchanneling is similar to a discussion board; however, it happens online in real time. In the classroom, students can engage in a backchannel chat with their devices while a passive activity, like a lecture or video, is taking place. Students love using their devices so much that you will probably hear from students who have never spoken in class before.
What are the biggest roadblocks to allowing students to ask questions?
In addition to the reluctance of some students to speak in class, you can also encounter the opposite side of the spectrum—the class clown who will take any opportunity to say something funny. Again, this is a situation where modeling and timely correction can be effective.
And just because you allow questions doesn’t mean you will receive any. Quick. informal assessments can help you figure out if learners aren’t asking questions because the content is too easy or because it’s over their heads.
Want to see more of the instructional strategies the Marzano Research Laboratory determined in the study? See all 13 Marzano best practices in online learning here.
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