How can I distribute questions in class and increase participation?

Hello everyone!

On my PEx, I get pulled up a lot for not evenly distributing my questions around my class. It’s hard for me to encourage participation and stop a select few students dominating the lesson. What can I do?

1 Like

Hello everyone!

This really is the ‘golden question’ for a lot of beginning teachers, and educators in general! Getting even and active participation in a class can be a challenge. There are a few things you can do however that can give you more control in your classroom.

Traditional forms of education actually did not rely on the students for participation. Ancient pedagogical methods, such as the ‘socratic method’, exploit cold calling and force participcation, whether the students want to or not. There are positives to methods such as these, which is why law schools still practice them today. However, in a school setting, this can be stressful for the students if they’re not comfortable talking in front of a group, or if they are behind in the content.

The best thing you can do is move your question asking processes from the sub-concious part of your brain to the concious. If you actually start taking notes of which students answer questions, and which don’t, you’d be surprised at how much you ask the same three students across the space of a whole lesson. Once you know the data, you can start coming up with ways to engage the students who don’t contribute reguarly.

A practical method is to write all the students’ names on paddle pop sticks and go through them one-by-one. This will make the students feel like the process is more fair and that you’re not picking on them.

1 Like

Hello RKid

Questioning students to illicit responses is a very effective pedagogical strategy. This strategy takes time to develop and you will become more effective as your confidence in the classroom develops. It is quite normal to have a select group of students who are quick to respond to questions and actually enjoy the interaction. There will always be students who are reluctant to put their hand up to respond. This is where you can develop strategies to support student participation. This is one of the focus areas in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers 4.1. (Identify strategies to support inclusive student participation and engagement in classroom activities - Graduate Level). A good way to start is to model an enthusiastic and positive attitude towards teaching and always acknowledge students’ contributions and allow time for students to respond appropriately. We can call this ‘wait time’. In some instances, you can invite less reluctant students to attempt to answer a question reminding them that it is not a problem if they answer incorrectly. When students feel respected and have a good relationship with the teacher they will be more likely to participate enthusiastically as opposed to tuning out. It is important to let students know that you are genuinely interested in them as learners and as people. Take time to find out a bit about your students e.g. hobbies, interests, sports. Once students feel that their teacher is genuinely interested in them as learners and when the teacher demonstrates that he or she is genuinely enthusiastic about the learning area content, it won’t take long before there is positive engagement and interaction by even the less reluctant learners.

Hi RKid
Here are some belated thoughts for distributing classroom questions.
I believe the first step in effective questioning lies in developing a safe and supported environment where students have the confidence to want to respond in front of the whole class. (It is a rather terrifying experience being singled out in front of your peers, let alone being asked to come up with the right answer!) This is easier said than done when on prac as you have a limited time in which to build and nurture that culture of comfort.
I use a combination of strategies. Like PRAC E, paddle-pop sticks are a great solution to your problem. I prefer to return ‘the chosen one’ to the cup for two reasons. Firstly, I do not want the students to ‘switch off’ for the rest of the lesson after their name has been called. Likewise, I do not want to increase the anxiety of the students who are left in the cup. This approach might alter depending on the situation. I always remind students that they can decline the offer to respond at any time and this is unconditionally accepted. It is valuable to return to these students at the end of the lesson and simply review any acceptable responses that were offered. Your strategies should not solely be about checking for understanding but also about building student confidence and engagement.
Show Me Boards are another powerful tool to encourage student voice. This approach reduces the anxiety of students as everyone is called upon to respond at the same time. It also gives the student who doesn’t know the answer a chance to look around and choose a best response. I discard the theory that this is ‘cheating’ and prefer to view this as a type of ‘collaborative learning’ where the student had to make an educated choice. Any answer is better than no response at all. Show Me Boards also offer great opportunities for feedback as you can discuss reasoning behind answers to consolidate thinking. This way you can sort responses into degrees of correctness and eliminate incorrect reasoning. It is important for students to realise that sometimes more learning occurs by discovering why something is wrong as opposed to simply knowing the right answer.
Open-ended questioning is another effective strategy you might like to investigate. This is an inspiring technique for generating student interest and involvement in pursuing topics and displaying their point in time knowledge of a concept. When students know there is not one correct answer, they will be more likely to offer their thoughts. You have effectively taken away the fear of failure, encouraged participation and most importantly taken an important step towards building student self-confidence.
Teaching is a work in progress, however there is no better time to be teaching than now. If you continue to accept critical feedback, seek assistance, experiment with ideas and constantly reflect on your practice, your own teaching style and confidence will evolve and this will have positive flow-on effects for your students.