Questioning enables an instructor to motivate, teach, involve and assess (The Instructor’s Handbook). As an integral part of the learning process, questioning generally requires preparation well in advance. Although some instructors may be adept at posing questions in real time, it is a challenge to phrase these well or ensure higher order thinking skills are targeted. Good questioning technique requires that instructors focus their questions to: meet the learning outcomes; optimise comprehension of the question; predict expected answers; predict off-topic or incorrect answers; and define strategies for when learners ‘just haven’t got it yet’.
Obviously, who, what, when, where, why and how, are extremely useful question markers. Instructors need only ensure that they are applying these with clear purpose for achieving their learning outcomes, as there is a tendency to focus only on factual responses. Of course, factual questions are the foundations for more analytical, evaluative and creative answers. However, the real goal of good questioning technique is to elicit answers efficiently, logically and in a manner that empowers learners.
A method for achieving this is through the use of Bloom’s taxonomy which provides a great model to help instructors formulate relevant questions that are pitched at the right level to suit the learner's grasp of the subject.
The blooms taxonomy table for classroom teaching is a great practical resource which includes a selection of useful verbs, sample question starters, potential activities and a list of demonstrable skills.
The following examples illustrate the application of these within the Army learning environment:
- Remember. The ability to remember previously learned material. Instructors can use the first category to ensure that the requisite foundation knowledge is achieved before more complex concepts are introduced: List the stages of the Individual Military Appreciation Process (IMAP)
- Comprehend. The ability to grasp meaning. This may be shown by translating material from one form to another (words to pictures), by interpreting material (explaining or summarising), and by estimating future trends (predicting consequences or effects): What occurs during Information Preparation and Monitoring of the Battlefield and how does this support planning?
- Apply. The ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations. This may include the application of such things as rules, methods, concepts, principles, laws, and theories: How can the IMAP be applied to non-combat planning scenarios?
- Analyse. The ability to break down material into its component parts so that its organisational structure may be understood. At this point, trainees become more involved in their learning and are able to make comparisons and inferences: What are the pros and cons of employing each phase of the IMAP?
- Synthesise. The ability to put parts together to form a new whole. This may involve the production of a unique communication (theme or speech), a plan of operations (research proposal), or a set of abstract relations (scheme for classifying information): How can the IMAP be modified for rapid planning?
- Evaluate. The ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose. This type of question combines acquired knowledge and insights so trainees can form effective and balanced judgements: Is the IMAP the most effective form of planning compared to other methodologies? Provide reasons for your answer.
- Create The ability to put elements together to form a coherent or functional whole, or reorganise elements into a new pattern or structure. This final phase was added in the 2001 revised edition and requires a knowledge and understanding of the subject in order to move beyond what is known: How can the various levels of the IMAP be modified to be more effective for future conflict?
Questioning is one of the most important aspects of instruction. Not only is it crucial for gauging the effectiveness of learning, it is a way for the learner to reflect on their own progress and understanding of the subject. While asking a question seems simple enough, asking the right question at the right time requires thought and an understanding of the expected outcome. Blooms taxonomy is a great guide for instructors to improve their questioning technique, while also providing examples of activities and assessments that demonstrate the various levels of thinking. An understanding of this model will help instructors better challenge their students by ensuring they not only produce factual information, but also engage in higher order thinking skills such as problem-solving, synthesis, evaluation and creativity.
About the authors: This article was produced by a team of dedicated educators from the Education Wing at the Land Warfare Centre. Contact Education Wing via the (DPN) Defence Protected Network for individual and unit education support.