Using Questioning as Formative Assessment

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform, and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to use formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

During the completion of my Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), I discovered the impact that questioning can have on student learning and achievement. Throughout my coursework at Seattle Pacific University, I learned about the importance of formative assessments and how they can be used to plan, inform, and adjust instruction to drive student learning and elevate achievement. While I knew that questioning was a valuable tool in this endeavor, it has become clear that it is the best way to truly tell the depth of students’ understanding and to measure their procedural fluency, mathematical reasoning, and conceptual development. During the math lesson sequence that I taught for my edTPA, I used small group lessons to probe students’ thinking and monitor their progress. What I discovered was that students who can easily fill out math worksheets often do not fully understand the concepts behind the procedures. While students were able to produce the right answers to math equations, they were not able to explain their reasoning or revealed that they had formed a misconception. These misconceptions might not have hindered that student’s ability to complete that particular task but left unchecked would cause knowledge gaps that would hinder future success. It is crucial that the information gained during these formative assessments is documented so that it can be used to adjust instruction and provide students with the targeted support needed. I used a monitoring sheet to record data about students’ comprehension and reasoning. The information on this monitoring sheet was used to provide scaffolding to struggling students and elevations to students who excel, as well as, provide mini-lessons to address misconceptions. As shown on the monitoring sheet, one student, in particular, developed a misconception about number bonds which was uncovered and addressed through questioning. By being asked strategic questions, the student was able to unpack the misconception without direct instruction from the teacher.

In order to gain valuable insights, I first had to prepare questions that would reveal students’ mathematical reasoning and conceptual development. Worksheets are useful in assessing students’ procedural fluency but often fail to measure much more. Questioning also allows teachers to give immediate feedback on student progress which is critical to success. Smith and Stein (2011) assert, “Good questions certainly help. They can guide students’ attention to previously unnoticed features of a problem or they can loosen up their thinking so that they can gain a new perspective on what is being asked. Good questions also force students to articulate their thinking so that it is understandable to another human being; this articulation, in and of itself, is often a catalyst for learning” (p. 62). During small group instruction at the half circle table pictured to the left, I would assess student progress starting with prompts for students to demonstrate their basic knowledge, comprehension, and application of the skills required to solve a problem. Then, students would be asked to analyze their understanding of the problem by explaining their reasoning. Next, students would be directed to synthesize and evaluate their understanding of the concept by identifying what math strategies and tools they found most helpful in solving equations. Finally, questioning was used to help students uncover their own misconceptions and confront them directly. Even though the students that I am working with are only in kindergarten, I found that they are easily able to explain their reasoning and evaluate their progress when asked the right questions. For my students, the act of explaining their mathematical process helped them to work through problems and correct their own mistakes. When I used the prepared questions, students would often come to their own revelations about math which is much more impactful than just receiving an explanation from the teacher. This practice has become a daily part of my math instruction throughout my student teaching experience. Moving forward, I would like to begin using questioning to this degree in all subject matter as it has been so effective during mathematics instruction.

Smith, M.S., & Stein, M.K. (2011). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.

Facilitating Nondirective Learning For Long-Term Achievement

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

Carl Rogers once stated, “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn…and change” (Mentis, Dunn-Bernstein, & Mentis, 2008, p. 89). He believed that it was the teacher’s role to facilitate learning for students and create a productive environment without explicitly directing them. This type of education requires teachers and students to become partners in learning instead of relying on the traditional classroom hierarchy (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 285). This method can produce many benefits for learners and have long-term results. Students who understand how to effectively learn new information on their own and then retain that knowledge can do so independently for the rest of their lives. Students who enter college with this kind of self-reliance stand to do far better than those who have always relied on teachers to provide them with direction. Nondirective teaching may seem like a passive endeavor that leaves teachers little to do in the classroom but that is not the case.

carl rogersEducators have an important role to play in this type of teaching and their support and encouragement is crucial to student success. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted that “…the teacher’s goal is to help [students] understand their own needs and values so that they can effectively direct their own educational decisions” (p. 289). Teachers must work to understand their students’ thinking so that they can help each one of them on their educational journey. Questioning is a large part of this teaching style because it serves to not only show students that the teacher is interested in their development but also allows teachers to push them to grow and achieve without directing their learning. Teachers can ask students non-leading questions to get them to think about issues and their own learning in ways they might not have otherwise investigated. Joyce et al. (2015) stated, “ The nondirective approach maintains that the most effective means of uncovering the emotions underlying a problem is to follow the pattern of the students’ feelings as they are freely expressed” (p. 290). These types of questions allow students to openly explore their opinions without fear of judgment which can help negate any pessimistic attitudes those students might have had about learning.

While this method of instructions has the potential to unlock motivation in students, it can be difficult for educators to institute effectively in the classroom. Nondirective teaching actually does require a great deal of teacher involvement. Teachers must be available to nurture their students’ emotional need while remaining unbiased which is a large task to take on. In order for teachers to not bring in their own personal experiences and opinions they first must work to identify and bring any preconceptions to the surface. This task is not a simple one as most people are largely unaware of many of their own underlying ideals. Even if educators are able to remain neutral and not influence their students’ thinking this kind of teaching tends to bring out unexplored emotions in learners. Joyce et al. (2015) suggested, “The nondirective environment raises the emotional elements of the situation more than the intellectual” (p. 295). This type of introspection and development can lead to unpredictable and uncomfortable conversations. Teachers must mentally prepare themselves to deal with unexpected questions and situations. However, despite the potential difficulties inherent to nondirective teaching it is still an important tool for educators to explore. When done well it has the potential to create more conscientious students capable of self-motivated life-long learning.

Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching: Ninth Edition. New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Mentis, M., Dunn-Bernstein, M., & Mentis, M. (2008). Mediated Learning: Teaching, Tasks, and Tools to Unlock Cognitive Potential. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Pixteller following creative commons licensing.

How Questioning Can Be An Effective Teaching Strategy

Program Standard 2

2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students. 

2.1 Element – Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques

2.1 Example of Proficient – Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided for students to respond.

As traditional ways of thinking have diminished and new theories have taken their place, education in the United States has undergone a transformation. Although many traditional teaching techniques are still prevalent in American classrooms the general consensus concerning learning has shifted. No longer are teachers thought to be the sole proprietors of knowledge and students the passive vessels waiting to receive information. Instead it is believed that students are natural learners waiting to discover different concepts and that a teacher’s role is to encourage and aid students in the discovery of new information. Inquiry based models are now seen as an effective teaching style to engage students and inspire them to become lifelong learners. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “If we build learning communities that draw students into inquiry into subject matter and help those students engage with it conceptually, they will master any subject” (p. 23). It is now seen as essential that teachers use questioning techniques to unlock the knowledge that students already obtain and then encourage them to build upon that information. Research has shown that in order for students to succeed they need to feel that they have self-efficacy and control over their own future and inquiry based teaching can provide that to them (Johnson, 2015, 28).

It is important for students to develop a sense of agency in order for them to realize their self-efficacy. Once students are aware of their own capabilities they will come to realize that they can achieve any goal they set out to accomplish. Leading students into inquiry through thoughtful questioning can help them achieve that realization. Johnson (2004) stated, “Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridge between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency” (p. 29). In order for students to be engaged in learning it is important that teachers demonstrate to them that their ideas are important. One way to do that is to create a supportive environment where students are encouraged to express their opinions. If teachers ask questions that allow students to direct the conversation it is more likely that students will become engaged in the subject matter. This type of teaching allows students to ignite their imaginations and connect the content to their own personal experiences.

It also allows students to make connections between the content that they are learning and real world scenarios. Johnson (2004) believed “that the less compartmentalized we make children’s learning lives, the more likely they are to transfer their strategic problem-solving to other situations” (p. 44). One main goal of education is to prepare students for life after school and help them develop the skills to thrive throughout their lives. It is important that the skills learned in school are transferable to a multitude of different situations. Posing questions and allowing student to explore topics on their own can teach them how to learn instead of just what to learn which will help them as they get older. As demonstrated it is essential for educators to employ questioning as part of their teaching strategy. It creates learners who can think for themselves and who understand the process of developing new skills. When students are a part of an inquiry based environment they develop the agency to take learning into their own hands and the skills to do so efficiently.

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from