Last updated on 17.07.2020
However, it is argued that more research needs to be carried out in order to allow teachers to fully understand the purpose of questioning and how to successfully implement it into their classroom (Simpson et al, 2014). Therefore, this case study identifies student perceptions of questioning to be a key area for further research to develop teachers’ understanding of how to implement questioning within their classroom.
For this case study, the location of the school will have a pseudonym. It will be called ‘Ville School’. Within the Geography department at Ville School students work according to their ability or potential. Those who are lower ability focus on ‘core’ activities, whereas those who are higher ability focus on ‘challenge’ activities. Therefore, after conducting both questionnaires and a focus group the data gained will be split into two even categories based on either a core or challenge level. The case study focuses on year 8 boys’ perceptions of questioning as a sample.
Reviewing existing literature has heavily influenced the direction of my case study. There is a wide breadth of research surrounding questioning in education. This ranges from what questioning is, to teachers’ experiences of different questioning techniques, to looking at how questioning impacts the student-teacher relationship. However, through my review of existing knowledge, I found a gap in the academic knowledge surrounding pupils’ perceptions of questioning.
Wragg and Brown explain
Wragg and Brown (2001) explain questioning as not a tool for teachers to develop their own knowledge but to grasp the level of knowledge and understanding of students. They highlight several reasons for asking questions including stimulating curiosity surrounding a specific topic, as formative assessment, and stimulating memory recall, encourage problem-solving and positively develop student’s imagination.
Wragg and Brown (2001) suggest that the overarching purpose of questioning within education is to enable learning. Therefore, all high-quality questions asked should be linked to the lesson objectives and purpose. Further to these examples, within education, questioning is seen as a tool for communication (Acer and Kilic, 2011).
The key to success
Within education, communication is key to success, whether that be between teachers and students or between two students (Acer and Kilic, 2011). Questioning is a key form of communication within a classroom. Acer and Kilic (2011) suggest that teachers need to understand how students feel about questions they are being asked. For example, teachers need to understand how each individual student will respond to being asked challenging questions. If utilized effectively, Simpson et al (2014) argue that questioning can ‘transform’ the atmosphere within a classroom to one, which fosters achievement.
Several articles have corresponding views of this, Wang et al (2017) argue that the transformation of the atmosphere comes through using questioning to develop students to become reflective and independent learners. In this argument, modeling questioning can help students to understand the type of questions they should or can be asking about the taught content (Wragg and Brown, 2001). This engages students to be independent in searching for answers to their own questions increase to their ability to explain and analyze specific knowledge (Wang et al 2017).
Walsh ad Sattes state
Walsh ad Sattes (2005) state using high end questioning effectively can transform a classroom. However, they suggest that in practice, a large proportion of questions are targeted at a lower cognitive ability range. The knock-on impact of this is that students are not being challenged to their individual needs and it does not help their cognitive development or encourage students to become reflective and independent learners. Walsh and Sattes (2005) have made this case through reviewing existing literature.
They found that on average, teachers stated they asked roughly 15 questions to every 30 minutes of lesson time. This would allow roughly two minutes for students to develop their answers. Despite this, the study concluded that when observing teachers, they asked an average of 50.6 questions to every 30 minutes of lesson time. This suggests that teachers are asking between one and two questions per minute during their class. Therefore, there is an indication that students have limited time to respond to questions, meaning they would questions are targeted at a lower level rather than questions, which encourage to students to become reflective, independent thinkers (Walsh and Sattes, 2005). Therefore, it is vital for teachers to remain critical of their questioning to ensure that it is having the positive impact of a classroom, which is desired by the profession.
Since this case study is looking at pupils’ perceptions of questioning, I believe it is important to unpick Wragg and Browns’ (2001) view on safe and responsible learning. Therefore, students need to understand that their environment is safe and that they have a responsibility to take part in questioning. Wragg and Brown (2001) discuss that children need to feel safe in their learning environment to take risks. In this situation the risk is the willingness to take part in questioning. They further state that ‘no one learns well if they feel under threat’. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop a safe learning environment for students to feel safe enough to positively take part. Wragg and Brown (2001) analyse this, stating that on the flipside of that, if this environment is not created, students will be reluctant to actively engage in questioning and not reap the rewards that come with positive engagement.
Wragg and Brown discuss
Wragg and Brown (2001) discuss the ideas of ‘responsible learning’ by stating that students will learn better when they have their own sense of responsibility toward their own learning and if they are able to take ownership of their own learning process. They further state that creating this type of learner should be the long-term objective of teachers. As stated above, Wang et al (2017) argue that when questioning is used effectively, it develops students to become reflective and independent learners. Therefore, the use of questioning can aid students in taking responsibility and ownership over their own learning. Developing these qualities in students aid them in understanding the importance of questioning, the purpose and what is expected of them (Wragg and Brown, 2001).
Despite the wide breadth of research around questioning in the classroom, Simpson et al (2014) highlight that there is not a great enough understanding for many teachers to fully harness the benefits. Acar and Kilic (2011) discussed the ideas that teachers need to understand how students feel about individual questions, which they do through observations, however, this does not delve deeper into students’ perceptions. Therefore, I strongly argue that there is a gap in literature and knowledge surrounding students’ perceptions of questioning in the Geography classroom. I argue that conducting this research will help to resolve the issue highlighted by Simpson et al (2014).
Elliot and Lukes (2008) suggest that until the 1970s research in education was heavily surrounded by a positivist paradigmatic structure focusing on statistical analysis of both schools and classrooms. However, during the 1970s the focus on research started to develop from a measurement and statistical approach to a more interpretivism way of conducting research, which led educational research to be conducted increasingly through a case study approach. Hamilton and Corbett- Whittier (2013) suggest that this movement in methodology occurred due to an argument that a positivist approach would not unpack the complexities of educational environments. Therefore, I argue that a case study approach is suitable for my small-scale research project as it attempts to deepen the understanding of mixed ability boys’ perceptions of questioning in the Geography classroom (Hamilton and Corbett – Whittier, 2013).
Discussion Elliot and Lukes
Elliot and Lukes (2008) highlight case studies not as a predetermined research structure but as a research genre, which aims to develop new and/or existing understandings on the complexities and relationships of education. Swales (2004) suggest that the case study genre acts as a set of guidelines in deciding on the design of the research including, process, quality and communication. Hamilton and Corbett- Whittier (2013) argue that case study design includes using two or more methods of data collection, also known as triangulation.
The concept behind this is to increase the legitimacy of the research conclusion after collecting ‘rich’ data, highlighting the complexities in education. The epistemological assumption of this case study design is that knowledge is socially constructed. Further to this, the design takes a relativist ontological assumption, which seeks to understand individuals’ subjective views in their own meaning-making process (Hamilton and Corbett- Whittier 2013).
For this case study, I will combine the use of questionnaires and a focus group. Initially, Denzin (1970, cited by Elliot and Lueks 2008 states that using multiple methods enhances the validity when concluding the results of research. Despite this, Brannen (2008) argues that triangulation of methods needs to be thoroughly examined and states that it is naive to assume that triangulating methods ensure greater validity. Despite this, Brannen (2008) agrees that researchers need to be adaptable in choosing multiple methods, which are appropriate for their investigation. Purpose sampling was conducted during this case study for both questionnaires and focus groups. This was a successful part of the research due to having a significant understanding of those students who would willingly respond, ensuring I gained meaningful data. For the questionnaire, two year 8 classes were chosen who were likely to respond well. However, for the focus group six year 8 boys of mixed abilities were chosen to give a representation of the different abilities within the school and provide meaningful, in-depth opinions on their perceptions of questioning (Rowley, 2014). When completing the research, the BERA (2018) ethical guidelines were always used (see appendix one for more detail).
One of the overarching benefits of using questionnaires in research is that you can gain data from a larger sample size of students making findings increasingly representative (Rowley, 2014). The responses from questionnaire informed the guideline for the topic of the focus group. There are multiple concerns with implementing questionnaires within education, it was found that students are more likely to positively take part in a questionnaire if the researcher is not seen to be a teacher (Strange et al 2003). Despite this specific point, Epstein (1998) argues that any adult who enters an educational environment is automatically viewed as a teacher by students. This suggested that if the questionnaire is implemented effectively, the importance of whether the researcher is a teacher or not is less significant to the outcome of the research.
The positives of conducting questionnaires heavily outweigh the negative including the perception that self- completion questionnaires often help individuals share their opinions and understandings without feeling uncomfortable, unlike interviews (Oakley et al, 1990 and Boulton, 1994). Another drawback highlighted by Hatcher (2000) is the issue of understanding the purpose and language within questionnaires was reduced as I, the researcher, was present to answer any additional questions the participants might have had.
The focus group was then used as a method to build qualitative findings to explain the quantitative data collected. The overarching intent of this focus group is to understand and explain the social phenomena within the Geography department (Barbour, 2007). A focus group was used instead of interviews as it was designed to focus on the interaction between participants rather than having a set of scripted questions such as a structured or semi-structured set of interviews (Kitzinger, 1995). Information from the questionnaire was used to develop a guide to keep the conversation on task to ensure rich data was gathered (Barbour, 2007).
It is said that information gathered in focus groups is unlikely to be sequential and therefore it is harder for the researcher to form meaningful data from it (Barbour, 2007). Further to this, Barbour (2007) suggests that with sensitive topics, participants can be reluctant to share information, however, in the case of my focus group Barbour (2007) and Kitzinger (1995) argue that the participants would be encouraged to be actively involved as students can react and add to fellow students’ points and opinions. Enough time should be spent preparing the focus group for it to be successful (Barbour, 2007). Therefore, the choice of focus group was not simply to save time, but due to the assumption that it would be the best way of gaining the positive engagement of the pupils and rich data.
Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data collected by the focus group. Clarke and Braun (2017) explain thematic analysis as finding different patterns of meaning within the data collection. Barbour (2007) highlighted that data collected in focus group is rarely done sequentially, valuable data can be shared at different points in no particular order. Barbour (2007) suggests that focus group data can, therefore, be difficult to make meaning of. Despite this, I argue that thematic analysis can help to make positive meanings from the data collected. Clarke and Braun (2017) argue that thematic analysis is highly flexible and can be adapted to identify the patterns needed to across the data. Therefore, I have selected four themes for the data to be positioned under; positives of questioning, negatives of questioning, settings, which help questioning, and overall concluding opinions of questioning in the Geography classroom.
The questionnaire highlighted that 69% of those working at core did not like being asked questions in Geography compared to only 36% to those working at challenge. Despite this, the questionnaire demonstrated that more than half of students working at core (92%) and challenge (64%) did not want to be asked more questions than they already are asked from their teacher.
The focus group developed ideas to aid the Geography teachers at Ville School in understanding how students feel about questioning, hence enabling them to successfully transform the atmosphere of the classroom (Acer and Kilic 2011). Evidence from the focus group supports that all the students viewed questioning in the Geography classroom as a positive, through the following examples; ‘mistakes can still be good because you can build on them and improve your own knowledge’ and ‘if you can get an answer correct it builds my confidence to be more active and involved in class’ (see appendix two). Both quotes come from pupils working at a core level, this was interesting to pick up since the questionnaire stated that 69% of students working at core level did not like being asked questions by teachers.
Direct quotes from those working at a challenge level back up the data from the questionnaires stating that 64% of students liked being asked questions by the teacher. These quotes include: ‘its good (questioning) because it helps you learn new things’ and ‘it (questioning) can improve your confidence and help you learn more’ (see appendix two). These overall views on questioning are informative when comparing to the questionnaire results, the focus group provided specific examples of both the positive and negative perceptions of questioning and what specifically about their Geography classrooms make these perceptions unique.
Several negative perceptions of questioning arose from the focus group. Those working at core discuss it ‘downing’ their confidence but seem to be less embarrassed if they get an answer wrong. One core participant stated that ‘I only find it embarrassing, when I get it wrong, if people giggle after’ (s appendix two). Despite this those who were completing work to a high level focussed on the perception that they did get embarrassed if they got the questions wrong and that they felt ‘under a lot of pressure’ once they had got one question wrong (see appendix two).
Despite these views, all participants of the focus group agreed that their year group at Ville School were very supportive (see appendix two). A pupil from the challenge level stated that he ‘thinks it helps if the class is supportive’, furthering to this point a student working at core stated, ‘I think we’re lucky that the class is quite supportive, and don’t often laugh if you get an answer wrong’. This idea was then further developed by a student working at core stating ‘I think that if someone does laugh, most of the class think that its rude’.
The understanding highlights the importance of a ‘safe learning’ environment (Wragg and Brown, 2001). When students feel safe and comfortable in their environment, they are more likely to actively and willingly take part in questioning. The understanding gained from the focus group highlights this point further. The supportive environment has ensured that these students feel encouraged by their peers and are therefore, more willing to take part. Whereas, if the environment was less supportive then they would feel more embarrassed and discouraged to take part (Wragg and Brown, 2001).
A moment that demonstrates the importance of communication
This point further demonstrates the importance of communication within the classroom (Acer and Kilic, 2011). Not only between the student and teacher but between students themselves. The communication of a supportive nature between students have allowed a positive atmosphere to develop, where both core and challenge students can take part. A student working at core (see appendix two) further highlights how communication is key during questioning. The student stated, ‘I like it when the teacher helps me to find the answer in front of the class because if I don’t know the answer then other students probably don’t either’. This highlights how important it is for the teacher to gain an understanding of how certain students are coping with the lesson. It allows the teacher to recap over challenging content, if there are misconceptions, and communicate that to the wider class. The student perception that this is a positive part of questioning was enlightening of the supportive nature of the class.
The development of the skill “Responsibility of students”
One of the most prevalent understandings of questioning is that it can transform that atmosphere of a classroom and develop ‘responsible learners’, who are reflective and independent (Wang et al, 2017; Wragg and Brown, 2001). However, despite this learning potential, teachers were not always asking the right questions to create this change (Walsh and Sattes 2005). The focus group demonstrated that students’ perceptions of questioning was that it ‘helps change your way of thinking’ or that ‘it helps me to know where I need to develop my knowledge’ (see appendix two). This demonstrates that students perceive questioning benefits on actively challenges them to develop their knowledge and understandings.
Overall, the questionnaire highlighted the initial feelings of students surrounding questions. The focus group was well placed to help develop an understanding of students’ perceptions of questioning in the Geography classroom and provided examples and added trustworthiness to existing literature.