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Research School Network: Questioning from a distance How can we use the research evidence around effective questioning to inform our distance teaching?


Questioning from a distance

How can we use the research evidence around effective questioning to inform our distance teaching?

by Durrington Research School
on the

A few weeks back we explored what the research evidence says about effective questioning, in this blog. Some of the key messages from the work of Rosenshine and Cotton were:

- Instruction which includes posing questions during lessons is more effective in producing achievement gains than instruction carried out without questioning students.

- Oral questions posed during classroom recitations are more effective in fostering learning than are written questions.

- Questions which focus student attention on salient elements in the lesson result in better comprehension than questions which do not.

- Questioning is an important part of the instructional process because it gives students the opportunity to practice new information and connect new material to their prior learning’.

- Alongside this questioning allows a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction’.

- The most effective teachers ask lots of questions to check how well the material has been learnt and also on the process that was used to answer the question.

- They also use a range of strategies to check the responses of all students and ensure the active participation of all students.


For most of us, implementing these principles when we are stood in front of a class of young people has become a well-embedded habit. However, trying to do this when you and (hopefully) your students are behind a computer screen at a distance, is far more challenging. So, how can we adapt these principles from the evidence to distance teaching, when using Google Classroom?

- As you would normally, start your lesson with some retrieval questions, but also questions to elicit prior knowledge. You can do this through the stream, or by recording a short video, asking students to watch it (and pause it as they need to) and then submit their answers. It might also be quite useful to set these before the lesson (using a self-marking Google Form) as this will provide you with useful information to plan your lesson.


- Elaborative questions are an excellent form of formative assessment and a tool for deepening learning. Open questions can be posed on the Stream to elicit answers from multiple students. Alternatively the private comment section of the Classwork tab can be used to probe students further on any work they submit.


- In the same way that you would normally, look through the work that students submitted in the previous lesson, see where the issues were and use this to come up with some questions to ask them at the start of your next lesson, to fill their knowledge gaps.


- Also, this may be an opportunity to bring some dialogic teaching into your practice. The stream can be used to stimulate a debate with the class regarding a previous lesson. This can be done at the start of a new lesson (which would also help with retrieval and strengthening memories). For example: Morning everyone, thinking back to last lesson, how many people agreed that the Voting Rights Act was more significant than the Civil Rights Act?”


- Remember, if you include simple closed questions in your online lessons to check or embed knowledge, you must also provide the answers. Not necessarily with the questions (as this will undermine retrieval) but certainly by the end of the lesson. Otherwise any incorrect answers may be embedded in the students’ long-term memories and will be hard to weed out later.


- Continue to develop students metacognitively by asking students to think about the strategies they used to tackle online tasks and how successful they were. This is really important as students are getting used to a new way of working, which involves new learning strategies.


- Loom videos are great for questioning. You can record yourself explaining a particular idea, using visuals on a powerpoint or something similar. You can then have a slide on with some questions, ask the students to pause the video and answer the questions. They can then take a photo of their answers and upload them. The problem with them posting answers to questions like this on the stream, is that everyone will see them.


- Cold calling can be used on Google Classroom. Ask some questions on the stream, but tell students to think about it and not answer. Then after a few minutes, repost the questions on the stream, but with student names after each question, who you want to answer in the stream.


- The idea of hinge questions becomes key with distance teaching (questions that you can only get right if you really understand something). At some point you need to know if students have mastered the ideas that you have been trying to teach them that lesson/​sequence of lessons – and this is tricky if you can’t see them. So setting them 3 – 5 well-crafted hinge questions, either as an assignment or in the stream at the end of the lesson or sequence of lessons, becomes really important.



It’s becoming clear that the evidence around effective teaching doesn’t need to be discarded just because we are teaching from a distance. It just requires us to think slightly differently about how we implement these principles.

Shaun Allison

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