Effective Teacher Questioning

Poor questioning usually involves asking closed questions, or questions that require learners to guess the correct answer that is “in the teacher’s head.” Like feedback, extensive research into questioning (Walsh &

Sattes, 2016) has provided the following features of effective practice

  • (see http://languagetesting.info/features/afl/formative2.html):
  • • Plan key questions around what you wish learners to acquire before the class.
  • • Pitch the question at an appropriate level of difficulty for the ability of the learners.
  • • Design questions that are challenging and will lead to discussion.
  • • Avoid closed questions (that cannot be answered with a simple “yes,” “no,” or a short statement).
  • • Use “How” or “Why” to start the question, or “What is your view/ opinion of?”
  • • Also use “What if?” and “What alternatives are there?” style questions.
  • • And “Can you think of other ways to do X?”
  • • Give learners time to think/discuss before requesting a response.
  • • Communication and improvement in thinking are more important than producing a correct response.
  • • Don’t always use “hands up” to select answers as this may exclude some learners.
  • • Do use random selection techniques, group feedback to whole class, whiteboard response, and so on.
  • • Clarify and check misunderstandings that emerge.
  • • Use responses to plan the next lesson and help individuals through enhanced feedback.

Scaffolding of Performance

In high-stakes speaking tests, it is anathema for the interlocutor to scaffold the performance of the test taker (Ross & Berwick, 1992). In recent years many examination boards have started to provide “interlocutor scripts” that control what an interlocutor/examiner may say in live speaking tests in order to avoid variation in practice, or scaffolding that may artificially elevate scores. While these kinds of interventions are to be avoided in speaking tests, in all forms of LOA in language learning scaffolding is essential to aid the learner to pay attention to performance. The purpose is to aid them in seeing where it can be improved and then work on the improvement (Swain, 2000). Scaffolding may be done at the time of performance, which is the main tool of dynamic assessment (Poehner et al., 2019), or through feedback with close proximity to the performance (Mackey, 2006). It is generally thought that immediate scaffolding is likely to lead to maximum change. The problem for many teachers is that scaffolding usually implies a one-to-one interactive situation, which is highly unusual in many classroom contexts.

Lesson Planning and Classroom Management for Reflection

If it is not possible to use individual scaffolding techniques, a related skill is using planning and classroom management to build time for reflection into mainstream pedagogy (Ash & Clayton, 2004). When learners have received peer or teacher feedback, this involves creating activities in which they have time to consider the feedback, ensure they have understood it through discussion with other learners or asking the teacher, and attempting parts of the task again in order to see if they can change the quality of their performance. This practice involves groups or pairs of learners working together with the teacher acting as a facilitator. It requires considerations of time for reflection within the normal flow of classroom activities, and the organization of space for peer and group interaction rather than teacher-fronted learning.

Management of Affective Impact on Learners

The introduction of the practices associated with change listed so far may be unfamiliar to learners and school systems at best, or seem like radical departures from what is considered “good teaching” at worst. Research has suggested that a further skill required by teachers is the ability to overcome any negative affective reactions to the introduction of learner-centered assessment practices (Hanrahan &c Isaacs, 2001). Successful implementation requires a careful explanation of the value of LOA and the associated new practices, both before and during their introduction. Training and support to engage in assessment and to adapt to learner-centered activities are considered critical. Listening to learners and monitoring levels of discomfort with new techniques should be an ongoing activity so that the speed of innovation can be sensitively planned (Horwitz, 2001).

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Despite growing awareness of the importance of LOA (Kosnik &c Beck, 2009), little time is spent on assessment in initial language teacher education (ILTE). In the United Kingdom, for example, research suggests that teacher trainees think of assessment in terms of taking tests for sum- mative and accountability purposes, and show little awareness of LOA (Butterfield et al., 1999), and evidence from survey research in LAL indicates that this is true in many other countries (Fulcher, 2020). Until the education authorities that control the content of ILTE are persuaded to include LAL, it seems that it will remain largely in the area of CPD (Fulcher, 2019). Indeed, when LAL is formally incorporated into the CPD of educational institutions, there is evidence that as teacher performance improves, so do the outcomes of learners (Wiliam & Thompson, 2017). The definition presented here of LOA as a separate paradigm, its central validity claim, and associated practical skills may be used to develop CPD programs, but may also encourage inclusion in ILTE.

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