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Essay: Questioning is a Useful Form of AfL

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  • Questioning is a Useful Form of AfL
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The placement school in which this investigation is based is a large academy in West Yorkshire which accommodates over 2100 students and offers sixth-form options for post- 16 students. This school is the mother-school of a large, successful multi-academy trust which operates in the north of England and is recognised nationally for having achieved consistently good GCSE results year on year. The trust currently directs 22 schools and is in the process of assuming responsibility of eight additional schools. The school is also recognised by Ofsted as being outstanding in all areas. The staff is comprised of 124 teachers, numerous support staff in roles such as one to one tutoring or supporting an individual student during lessons, and various non-teaching roles such as learning managers, who are responsible for the behaviour and well-being of an entire year group.

I was placed within the English department which consists of 22 teaching staff, and is led by the department head as well as the Director of English. Students begin their English language and literature GCSEs in year nine and follow the Eduqas syllabus. The school also offers both English language and literature courses at Key Stage 5, also with the Eduqas syllabus. It is worth noting that because of the current educational climate the department and, indeed, the school are still adjusting to the introduction of the new National Curriculum in 2014, and the successive changes to the GCSE English examinations from the September of 2015. The department is still in the process of becoming accustomed to the changes in the curriculum, particularly with regards to the way in which GCSEs are now graded which was traditionally A*-G but is now 9-1. Some teachers in the department admitted that these changes were very difficult to cognise and had caused significant anxiety amongst both staff and students.

To examine whether or not questioning is indeed a useful form of assessment for learning, I made the decision to focus my investigation on my year 10 class. Of course, for core subjects such as English, students are grouped by ability; my year 10s are a set six class and the average predicted grade at GCSE for that class is a four, with five being considered a strong pass. There are 20 students in this group; seven who are PP students, three students with SEN and two EAL students. Prior to teaching this class, I had observed them for several weeks and had noticed that the teacher had been consistently missing opportunities to ask the students questions to assess and consolidate their learning. They had been completing a unit of work on narrative writing and whilst I was circulating the classroom and reading their work, it was evident that the majority of them were struggling. I felt that this could have been addressed through the use of questioning to ensure that they really understood what was expected of them. I felt that because their teacher had missed several lessons due to illness and other personal issues, they had rushed through the unit of work to the detriment of the students’ understanding. Additionally, I got the impression that it was possible that the teacher did not think it worthwhile to push the class further because it was a low ability class. Despite the class being low-ability, I came to the conclusion that with the correct type of questioning, this class could be successful and it would indicate to me how far the students understood the topic. I chose this group for two reasons: they are a low-ability group who can be fairly difficult in terms of behaviour and engagement and I wanted to develop my skills of managing a difficult class, and I also chose this class for my investigation because it would be a fantastic opportunity to enhance my questioning skills, which is something that I had struggled with in the early stages of my placement. It would also present a good opportunity to experiment with different questioning techniques to discover which ones are the most effective or least effective for a particular group. I will also have to be conscious of the type and difficulty of the questions I ask, given the needs of some students in this class. I took over this class when the students returned to the school after the October half-term break. We were starting a new unit of work, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which I felt was a suitable topic area to demonstrate how far questioning is a useful form of assessment for learning, as there would be opportunities throughout the unit to ask students questions about their understanding of the text which would serve to exhibit how effective questioning was through the quality of student responses. I feel that I have the opportunity to help the class to make real progress and improve their skills.

Literature Review

What is AfL?

Assessment for learning is an essential process in a successful learning environment whereby teachers can methodically and periodically evaluate their students’ understanding of a given topic and measure how much progress has been made. Research into assessment for learning has been ongoing for some time; almost half a century ago, David Ausubel advocated the idea that in fact, what students already know when they enter the classroom is the most significant factor in influencing their learning, and that teachers should be proactive in establishing what the students’ prior knowledge is and consequently tailor their teaching to enrich this knowledge (Ausubel, 1968). According to Wiliam (2011), it appeared for a time that the universal view of education was that as long as teaching practice was considered of acceptable quality, then there was no need for it to be adapted to the needs of the individual student. Wiliam (2011, p.3) elaborates on this, and notes that it had previously been acceptable to believe that “well-designed instruction” was satisfactory enough to ensure that all students could progress, and that any misunderstandings or inability to improve were the fault of the individual student. This viewpoint is reinforced by the research of Crooks (1988), who observed formal assessment processes such as tests and informal assessment processes such as oral questioning by teachers and comprehension based questions of texts. Following this investigation, he concluded that ‘Too much emphasis has been placed on the grading function of evaluation and too little on its role in assisting students to learn” (p.468). Crooks found that teachers were neglecting to nurture and monitor the progress of their students, instead opting to focus on summative assessment. This corresponds with Wiliam’s (2011) perspective that the individual needs of the students were ignored in favour of subjecting them to seemingly arbitrary formal assessment. Crooks (1988) also argued that there was a need for systematic change in the amount of time allocated to both formal and informal assessment, as the overuse of formal assessment can result in:

“reduction of intrinsic motivation, debilitating evaluation anxiety, ability attributions for success and failure that undermine student effort, lowered self-efficacy for learning in the weaker students, reduced use and effectiveness of feedback to improve learning, and poorer social relationships among the students.” (p.468). Crooks had clearly observed many teachers simply miss opportunities to ensure that they were using the correct processes to secure progress. As mentioned in my introduction, I had had a similar experience when observing the class on which my own investigation is based; similar assessment for learning opportunities such as oral questioning had likewise been squandered by the teacher when it could have in fact been a perfect opportunity to ensure that all students were making good progress. It is credible, then, that informal assessment – or assessment for learning – processes such as oral questioning or adjunct questioning can be vastly beneficial for students to ensure that they can further their own understanding and make satisfactory progress.

Benefits of Questioning

As mentioned above, questioning is an integral part of the teaching and learning experience. According to Tofade, Elsner and Haines (2013, p.1) the purpose of questioning is “to stimulate the recall of prior knowledge, promote comprehension, and build critical-thinking skills”. This corresponds with Ausubel’s (1968) view that the most important information that students possess is actually what they already know when they walk through the classroom door. Therefore, it is vital that this is appropriately utilised and that the prior knowledge is addressed and built on in order to promote further understanding and to improve comprehension. According to Redfern (2015, p.28), questioning is expected to take up “between 35 and 50 per cent of teachers’ instructional time”. Given that lessons are usually only one hour long, this is a substantial amount of contact time dedicated to asking questions. This suggests, then, that Redfern believes that questioning is of the utmost importance and an essential factor of creating a successful learning environment. This viewpoint is echoed by Harris (2016) who argues that good questioning is an indication of being an outstanding teacher. Of course, ‘good’ questioning is a vague term which first needs to be defined before it can be identified. Research into the effectiveness of questioning has been extensive; in 1948, a team of academics led by Benjamin Bloom aimed to analyse and organise questions and responses and classroom objectives into a comprehensive and legitimate model. By the mid-1950s, the group, consisting of Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill and Krathwohl, had achieved their goal and published their work on the cognitive domain, which came to be referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain and subsequently, Bloom’s Taxonomy. As a result of the investigation, Bloom et al. (1956) established their taxonomy which identified the following levels:

• Knowledge: the student should have the ability to simply recall information or ideas

• Comprehension: the student should have the ability to describe something in their own words

• Application: the student should have the ability to use prior learning to complete a problem with minimal help

• Analysis: the student should have the ability to explain how something is composed, thus demonstrating their understanding

• Synthesis: the student should have the ability to use the information they have learned to generate their own meanings

• Evaluation: the student should have the ability to make their own decisions on the validity and worth of an idea, based on what they have previously learned

Huitt (2011) maintains that the idea behind the levels of the taxonomy is that they are considered hierarchical; once teachers have determined what it is that they want their students to know, they can decide which questions to ask and which classroom objectives would be appropriate. However, because of the hierarchy of the levels, students can only progress to the next level once the previous level has been understood. Hopper (2009) found that the first three levels of the taxonomy handle low-order thinking skills, while the last three levels deal with high-order thinking skills. The aforementioned thinking skills correspond with questions based on two major categories: lower-level questions and higher-level questions. The differences between these two question types can be explained by Freahat and Smadi:

“Lower level questions emphasize the recall of specific and universal methods, processes, structures and settings. Higher level questions, on the other hand, are more advanced and require knowledge of subject matter. Moreover, they require students to engage on deeper thinking processes”. (2014, p.1804). Looking again at Bloom’s taxonomy, then, it can be ascertained that Freahat and Smadi’s definitions of higher level questions and lower level questions correlate with Hopper’s opinion that the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy can be divided equally into high-order thinking skills and low-order thinking skills. Despite Freahat and Smadi’s perceived preference for higher level questions, Tofade, Elsner and Haines (2013) argue that there is still value in teachers asking lower level or low order questions, as long as they do not stray from the learning outcomes and the questions are appropriate and present the students with an opportunity to make progress. It can be deduced, then, that asking students a range of lower level and higher-level questions is perfectly legitimate and is actually a valid method with which to check progress and understanding.

Types of Questioning

According to Weatherby-Fell (2015), when research on the concept of questioning was in its early stages, researchers were interested solely in ‘when’ and ‘how’ teachers asked questions. More recently, however, researchers have evolved in their level of research and investigated instead the type of questions asked with a focus on the difficulty and patterns of the questions, as well as the level of cognitive ability required to address the questions. Several years after the publication of Bloom’s research, Gallagher & Aschner (1963) proposed their own taxonomy which groups questions into the following four categories:

• Memory – questions in this category focus on recalling information and answering questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer

• Convergent thinking – questions in this category focus on explaining relationships and comparing

• Divergent thinking – questions in this category focus on inference and making predictions

• Evaluative thinking – questions in this category focus on forming own opinions and justifying choices

Similarly, Corley and Rauscher (2013) propose that the questioning technique ‘Question the Author’ (QtA) is an effective questioning method. QtA is a reading comprehension approach which promotes student engagement with a text by encouraging them to consider the author’s intentions while they are reading the text, instead of after they have already read. It is argued that this will foster a positive attitude towards the text which should in turn develop the students’ understanding of the text. QtA challenges students to question the author’s choices and solidify their understanding of the author’s perspective regarding the text. QtA is made up of the following six steps:

1. Select a reading text.

2. Identify stopping points where students may need to obtain a deeper understanding.

3. Create questions to encourage higher-order thinking, such as What is the author trying to say? Why do you think the author chose this wording in this particular spot? How does this connect to what the author said earlier? How does the author let you know that something has changed?

4. Present the passage to students along with one or two questions that the teacher has already created.

5. Use “think-alouds” to model for students how to move through the questions.

6. Ask students to read the passage and work through the questions that the teacher has prepared for them, using the questioning style that the teacher modelled for them. Corley and Raushcer (2013, p.3).

Beck, McKeown, Hamilton, and Kugan (1997, p.33) argue that using QtA as a questioning technique is worthwhile because it encourages students to “construct the meaning, wrestle with the ideas, and consider the ways information connects meaning”.

Summary of Literature

Ausubel’s (1968) argument that students’ prior knowledge is the most important indication of how well they will learn will be a significant influence on my professional development and practice. I will ensure that at the beginning of each lesson, I ascertain what my students know and how this knowledge will determine the direction in which the lesson goes. This knowledge will need to be developed in order to nurture the students’ higher-order thinking skills. Crooks (1988) and Wiliams’ (2013) assertions that individual learners’ needs should be taken into account will also greatly influence my lessons; the class on which my investigation is based is a low-ability class which consists of students with various needs, and I will therefore I will need to be conscious of the difficulty of the questions that I ask and also the students to whom they are asked. Naturally, Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy will be extremely influential on the way in which I plan my lessons and create my resources. I will very carefully determine the most appropriate questions to ask to ensure that my students can make good progress at each level to successfully progress to the next level Huitt (2011). Gallagher & Aschner’s (1963) taxonomy is another piece of literature which will shape the way in which my lessons are planned. Their four categories of questioning are greatly relevant to my class because they are a low-ability group, therefore I will need to ensure great care is taken to help them progress from basic information recalling questions to evaluative thinking: helping them to form their own opinions and justify their ideas. Corley and Rauscher’s (2013) exploration of QtA will also prove to be a highly influential text as my year 10 class will be studying Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Whilst teaching this text, there will be a plethora of opportunities to identify stopping points where I can ask students questions about the text to enrich their knowledge and encourage them to obtain a deeper understanding of the author’s intentions. Using the QtA method will also give me the opportunity to create comprehension based questions based on the text to consolidate students’ knowledge and promote higher-order thinking consistent with the latter three levels of Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy: Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

Curriculum Package

Lesson One

PowerPoint A

Lesson Plan A

Resources A

Fezziwig’s Party

In Stave 2, Mr Fezziwig’s ball is a scene of much joy and excitement for everyone invited. When the Ghost of Christmas of Past shows Scrooge this scene from his past, even Scrooge is warmed by the fun they are all having.

In the table below, use the words in the box to decide how the characters of Scrooge and Mr Fezziwig are different. Then find quotes from the book to evidence your opinion.

Scrooge Mr. Fezziwig

Observation A

Lesson Two

PowerPoint B

Lesson Plan B

Resources B

Scrooge as a Young Man

Read and complete the following questions about what we have just read. Find quotes in the novel to support your answers.

1. Why does Belle break off her engagement with Scrooge?

2. What does Belle mean when she says, “Another idol has displaced me”?

3. How did Scrooge begin to change into the Scrooge we know?

4. How do you think Scrooge feels when he sees Belle again?

5. Why did the Ghost of Christmas Past show Scrooge the vision of Belle and her family?

Extension: in your exercise book, write a diary entry as if you were Belle, explaining how you feel after breaking off your engagement to Scrooge

Observation B

Student Work B

Lesson Three

PowerPoint C

Lesson Plan C

Resources C

C.1 Generic Worksheet

Quote Quest: The Cratchits’ Christmas

C.2 Differentiated Worksheet

Cratchits’ Christmas

Comment: Tiny Tim wants people to remember all the kind and wonderful things that Jesus did.

Evidence: “’… remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see”.


Evidence: “Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the spirit”


Evidence: “Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth’”


Evidence: “’Spirit,’ said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, ‘tell me if Tiny Tim will live’”.


Evidence: “’If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population’”.


Evidence: “’Mr Scrooge!’ said Bob; ‘I’ll give you Mr Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”’.



Extension: choose key words/phrases from your evidence and explore them. What do they suggest?

Observation C

Student Work C

Lesson Four

PowerPoint D

Lesson Plan D

Resources D

A Christmas Carol Summary Questions – Staves One to Three

Extra Challenge: Can you use any quotes to back up your answers to the questions?

1. What kind of person is Scrooge at the beginning of the story? How is he described?

2. How does he treat his clerk, Bob Cratchit?

3. How did he react when his nephew Fred wished him a merry Christmas?

4. Who appeared to Scrooge to tell him that he would be visited by three spirits? How did this person know Scrooge?

5. How is he described? What effect does this have?

6. What was the name of the first spirit to visit Scrooge?

7. How was the first spirit described?

8. Who/what did the first spirit show Scrooge? Why did it show Scrooge these things?

9. What was the first spirit’s purpose? What did it represent?

10. What was the name of the second spirit to visit Scrooge?

11. How was the second spirit described?

12. Who/what did the second spirit show Scrooge? Why did it show Scrooge these things?

13. What was the second spirit’s purpose? What did it represent?

What do you think will happen next?

Observation D

Student Work D


The curriculum package concentrates on four of the lessons that I taught which are on my chosen focus. During my time teaching this unit of work, I ensured that during the starter activity I recapped the learning from the previous lesson in order to make certain that students had retained information and could consolidate their knowledge and show its relevance to the current lesson. It was also a good opportunity to address any misconceptions that would be detrimental to students’ ability to make progress. Researchers from the educational charity The Sutton Trust Coe, Aloisi, Higgins and Major (2014, p.2) observe that good quality of teaching instruction includes “elements such as effective questioning” and more specifically, “reviewing previous learning”. As demonstrated in my curriculum package through PowerPoints A-D, for each starter activity students were asked questions based on the learning focus of the previous lesson.

• Lesson One

In Lesson One, PowerPoint A, as part of the starter activity students were asked the question “How has Scrooge changed so far since meeting the Ghost of Christmas past?”. While this question is a low-order question and certainly not above the levels of Knowledge and Comprehension in Bloom et al.’s (1956) taxonomy, I felt that it was an appropriate question for the level and ability of the class, and as a quick and efficient method of evaluating how much information my students had retained from the previous lesson. In Gallagher & Aschner’s (1963) taxonomy this question certainly would not have exceeded the memory category as it relies on only recalling specific information. Furthermore, Orlich et al. (2004) argue that questions such as these are likely to draw out only short responses and cater only to lower-level thinking. Meanwhile Good and Brophy (2003) may agree that only a finite number of acceptable responses pertain to convergent questions, they do, however, go on to comment that they are effective as a quick recap to check for basic understanding. I asked students to respond to this question using their mini-whiteboards. I have found that this is a very economical way of eliciting responses from students; it is an all-student response technique which means that students cannot become complacent as they potentially could be if a question was directed at one particular student. It promotes student participation and allows me to assess their understanding and whether or not a brief recap of the previous learning is necessary. Whilst planning my lessons, I always considered Ausubel’s (1968) observation that the most important knowledge that students possess is what they already know. With that in mind, I always endeavoured to make sure that I evaluated exactly what knowledge the students already had.

I found this question suitable and appropriate as the vast majority of students successfully answered it. I have also found writing on mini-whiteboards as a questioning tool extremely useful as it does not single out one just one student for a response and can elicit responses from students who are usually unwilling or are too self-conscious to contribute. I had a student with SEN in that class who was extremely uncomfortable being verbally questioned during the lesson, so assessing his responses using mini-whiteboards was extremely advantageous for both myself and the student concerned, as they could respond to questions without feeling distressed and I could gauge their understanding and act on any problems should they have arisen. When planning this lesson, and indeed the unit as a whole, Corley and Rauscher’s (2013) knowledge of QtA was highly influential, although rather than rigidly following its structure, I adapted its format to be consistent with what my comprehension of the class’s needs were. Because this class was a low-ability class, I opted to remove the “think aloud” element of the structure. Instead, I made the choice to simply read the text aloud, choose appropriate stopping points and ask questions about the author’s intentions to encourage higher-order thinking. As demonstrated in Lesson One, Lesson Plan A, before delivering the lesson I had identified several stopping points and had planned the questions that I wanted to ask at those points. Unlike the question in the starter activity, these questions involved a higher-order level of thinking. My intention here was that the questions would help students begin to progress through the levels of Bloom et al.’s (1956) taxonomy. Because of Redfern’s (2015, p.30) suggestion that “using too many questions of a similar style can leave students disengaged”, I used a combination of different questioning techniques such as no hands, all-student response and question techniques to add variety. I felt that this was particularly important as students in this class were prone to becoming disengaged if they felt that the teacher wasn’t focusing their attention on them. Nonetheless, if there was a particular student that I wanted to answer a question then I would target them. This could have been a weaker student to whom I asked a fairly low-order question to boost their confidence, or a stronger student to whom I asked a more difficult question in order to push them further. I also found that using a random name generator promoted engagement as any student could be called upon to answer a question. The questions posed during the stopping points were a useful way of assessing whether or not students understood the content of the text. After students had answered the questions and I was satisfied that they had understood sufficiently, they completed the worksheet shown above in Lesson One, Resources A. During the plenary activity, using their mini whiteboards, students were asked to write down whether they would rather work for Scrooge or Fezziwig and explain their answer, using a quotation if possible. This was a higher-order question that enabled students to use what they had learned to create their own judgement; a quality which is consistent with the Evaluation level of Bloom et al.’s (1956) taxonomy. This question strengthened students’ understanding of the different characters in the text by comparing them and contextualising how the characters might affect them. Using mini-whiteboards for this activity was a quick way for me to assess the students’ understanding. Based on my students’ responses to my questions, I was satisfied that progress had been made.

• Lesson Two

In Lesson Two, PowerPoint B, students were asked the question “How are Scrooge and Fezziwig different?”. This question revisited what students had learned in the previous lesson which was beneficial as their responses informed me how much information they had retained and whether or not a recap was necessary. Students answered the question successfully and then, as demonstrated in Student Work B, were able to use their knowledge to create an ‘evidence-comment’ paragraph to explain the differences between Scrooge and Fezziwig. Whilst planning this lesson, I made the decision to apply Corley and Rauscher’s (2013) QtA strategy more vigorously to my lessons as demonstrated by the questions on Lesson Plan B. I wanted students to begin to consider what the authors intentions were when they were writing the text in order to promote a deeper understanding of the context in which it was written. As shown in Student Work B, students answered a series of comprehension-based questions based on the part of the text we had read during the beginning of the lesson. Students made excellent progress during this lesson, which was evident through the quality of their responses to my questions and the work produced on the worksheet. Consistent with QtA, I posed higher-order questions which related to the author’s intentions and contextual issues (see Lesson Plan B). Despite being able to answer these questions, I quickly discovered that many students seemed to find this method of questioning confusing, perhaps because they were being asked to contemplate why the author had made particular decisions in terms of language choices and characterisation. It was apparent that in Lesson One the students responded much more positively and coherently to questions which asked them about their own interpretation of what a character represented or what a language choice meant, rather than questions which asked them about what they thought the author’s intentions were.

• Lesson Three

Following the same structure as Lessons One and Two, Lesson Three began by assessing what students had remembered from the previous lesson. I found that my lessons benefitted from this consistency, as my students began to know what to expect when they entered the classroom; there would be a starter activity on the interactive whiteboard and the majority of them would sit down and complete the starter. This created a calm learning environment in which students were able to quickly complete the starter task and I could assess their progress from the previous lesson. When planning this lesson, I reflected on my questioning strategies from the previous lesson when I had utilised my tailored version of QtA. Despite my impression that the students felt uncomfortable with that particular questioning method, I decided to try again for the purpose of this investigation. Upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that there could have been other external factors at play to explain why students did not respond to the questions as well as I would have liked. As shown in Lesson Plan C, I only asked one question which was related to author’s intentions; the rest were regarding what the students’ own interpretations were. Once again, I found that student responses to the latter were more confident and coherent, while responses to the former were often riddled with misconceptions. After delivering this lesson, I decided that the following lesson’s questions would focus solely on the students’ own thoughts and impressions, rather than causing confusion. I came to this conclusion by considering again Wiliam’s (2011) argument that the learner’s needs should be given due consideration.

• Lesson Four

Lesson Four was the final lesson that I taught to this class. Contrary to Lessons One to Three, the starter activity was not based on learning from the previous lesson, rather it was based on learning from a lesson very early on in this unit of work simply because we were revisiting looking at a character from early on in the novella. The main focus of the lesson, however, was to assess how much knowledge students had retained about the unit of work as a whole. As demonstrated in Student Work D, students had to answer a series of comprehension-based questions about every significant part of the text we had looked at so far. Students were not permitted to look at their exercise books nor their copy of the text; instead, they had to answer as many of the questions from memory as possible. They could, however, use quotations to evidence their responses if they could remember any appropriate ones. These questions were a mixture of open and closed questions because of Redfern’s (2015) suggestion that different questioning types should be used to maintain student engagement and also because the closed questions could act as a confidence boost for those lower-ability students. As evidenced in Student Work D, students did exceptionally well and were able to answer questions based on lessons from early on in the unit of work. I felt that they could successfully do this because we had followed the same structure every lesson of recapping the previous lesson during the starter activity and consolidating the learning of the current lesson during the plenary activity.


Throughout teaching this unit of work and the units of work taught to my other classes, I have gained a plethora of knowledge and experience about questioning as tool for assessment for learning. At the beginning of my placement, my feedback in observations from both my host teachers and my mentor was consistently to use questioning more effectively to elicit more thoughtful responses and to give students a deeper understanding. This is something that I had struggled with for the first few weeks of the placement, but after engaging with the literature I felt that I had gained vital information that would help me to improve my teaching practice and develop my questioning skills. I chose this focus for my assignment in order to advance my questioning skills by learning new techniques and methods in order to ensure that my instruction is the best it can be and in turn, help students to realise their full potential by developing their knowledge and understanding, and making the text more accessible, enjoyable and less intimidating.

Focussing on questioning as a useful form of AfL has, in my opinion, confirmed Crooks (1988) and Wiliam’s (2011) notions that it is imperative to focus on the individual learner’s needs. Planning and delivering lessons for such a low-ability class has taught me how vital it is to know beforehand the questions which should be asked and what knowledge the student should gain after answering the question. I carefully planned the questions I wanted to ask based on what I wanted the students to learn during a lesson. These were always a mixture of higher-order and lower-order questions to maintain students’ interest and engagement and to ensure that various students were being appropriately challenged.

Consistent with Redfern’s (2015) observation that questioning is a time-consuming endeavour for teachers, I found that reading the text aloud to the class, identifying stopping points and asking questions could indeed be considered a taxing effort. It was, however, advantageous because it demonstrated to me the degree to which students understood the text. As demonstrated in my Curriculum Package through PowerPoints A to D, during the plenary of each lesson I would ask a question which consolidated what the students had learned during that lesson. These are examples of divergent, or open, questions, which, according to Weatherby-Fell (2015), are advantageous because they give students the opportunity to give their own opinions and encourage a wide range of satisfactory answers. Orlich et al. (2004) also argue that divergent/open questions are useful because they advocate more detailed and diverse student responses by provoking a longer and more in-depth thought process to produce more articulate responses using sophisticated language choices.

I believe that this investigation has given sufficient evidence to argue that questioning is indeed a useful form of assessment for learning. As shown through Resources A to D, students were able to successfully complete worksheets subsequently after answering questions based on the text. The questions that were posed during reading promoted a deeper understanding of the text, its plot and its characters and provided students with the knowledge needed to be successful when completing the next activity. The plenaries, as shown through PowerPoints A to D, always focussed on consolidating the learning that students had been engaged in. Arguably, the greatest piece of supporting evidence is Student Work D; students were able to complete this worksheet completely from memory after having followed the same structure and being asked similar types of comprehension questions throughout the unit of work. It seems that the questions promoted more retention and engagement through a better understanding and the responses gave me an accurate representation of students’ understanding.

If I were to repeat this investigation, I would choose to focus on a higher-ability group in order to improve my ability to ask higher-order questions and probing questions. I would also ensure that low-level disruption is handled more quickly, especially when my attention is distracted by assisting students when circulating the classroom. Another aspect of the investigation that I would change is conducting it over a longer period than just four lessons in order to further demonstrate student progress and evidence more clearly my argument for the assignment focus.


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Good, T.L. & Brophy, J.E. (2003). Looking in Classrooms. (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Harris, M. (2016). How to Develop the Habits of Outstanding Teaching: A practical guide for secondary teachers. Abingdon: Routledge.

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