Research School Network: Questioning in PE

Questioning in PE

by Durrington Research School
on the

The Problem

It is undeniable that questioning is imperative to improving students’ understanding of the world . However teachers are often over reliant on recall style questions surrounding surface knowledge, usually targeted at students who the teacher knows has sound knowledge within the field. Whilst establishing whether students have a firm grasp of the core knowledge they need to master the subject is important, questioning should aim to stimulate learners to analyse, evaluate and link ideas together. Essentially, questioning should generate thinking. This is an area of classroom practice which is sometimes lacking in the initial years of teaching.


Kathleen Cotton whose Classroom Questioning’ (1988) article can be found here, offers some clear guidance on effective questioning. Barrack Rosenhsine also offers an insight into the impact effective questioning can have on success of students’ learning. His article Principles of Instruction’ can be found here – review of the principles of effective instruction (2012). To summarise, both articles suggest that effective teacher questions are crucial and deemed a necessity in supporting learning. Andy Tharby has written a good summary of these two papers here. In this blog, Tharby shares these points about questioning from Rosenshine:

1. The most effective teachers spend more than half of class time lecturing, demonstrating and asking questions; less effective teachers ask fewer questions.

2. Effective teachers ask a large number of students and check responses of all students.

3. Effective teachers ask students to explain the processes they used to find an answer; the least effective teachers ask almost no process questions.

4. Effective teachers obtain a high answer success rate – i.e. questions should not be too difficult, but not so easy that they provide no cognitive challenge at all.

Mobilising the Research

The PE team at Durrington High School have been looking at how we can mobilise these research findings, with the aim of developing questioning to deepen student understanding and improve the quality of their written responses. We have approached this in the following way:

  • Lesson observations have focused on effective questioning, based on this research. These observations have suggested that recall based questions surrounding key content were focused and regular and support students with remembering this core knowledge.
  • Staff had a relatively high answer success rate and students clearly understood the surface level knowledge required to answer AO1 questions (exam questions surrounding recall of key knowledge).

As a team, we have identified the following points to improve our questioning:

  • The thinking process students used to get to their answers was not explicitly discussed enough or involved in the questioning process. This will be a focus for our questioning moving forward.
  • Explicit delivery of how to question students about the metacognitive process they use is a departmental focus and will be discussed and implemented during SPDS (subject planning and development sessions – fortnightly subject CPD sessions).
  • Alongside the process, we are also focusing on deeper level questioning, so students can give a response, understand why that is the correct answer, how they could develop it further and also link the answer across topics, pulling on the greater level of response required to answer AO3 questions (exam questions surrounding analytical and evaluative knowledge).

Of course, these focus points on questioning are easier said than done. It is imperative for teachers to have strong subject knowledge if they are going to be able to question effectively. Alongside this, it is necessary to create a classroom culture where questioning students why they think that, how they could develop their responses and asking them to link across topics are part of everyday practice. This is a key focus for the PE team moving forward.

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