Listening and Questioning for Facilitating Reflection | Steve Barkley

Listening and Questioning for Facilitating Reflection

School leaders and instructional coaches can support teacher reflection that promotes teacher learning. Listening and questioning are key facilitation skills that generate reflection that promotes insights and learning.

As I am listening and questioning, I am exploring teachers’ thinking:

Where are they?
How did they get there?
Where do they want to go?

Questions for Learning provides a format for my question formation. You can download a copy here.

One of the guiding tenets that I work from is that I want to understand the teachers’ thinking before I share my thinking. Here are some questions I might use in a post-observation conference where the teacher had requested a focus on engagement and perseverance.

  • As you planned this learning activity, how did you picture students responding initially to the task? Perception
  • How similar was that to their response? Same/Different
  • Which students persevered less than the majority of the class? Analysis
  • What generalization would you make about student perseverance? Induction

Here is a question that administrators and coaches frequently use at the start of a post-conference. It’s one that I usually avoid.

How do you think that went?

This question requires an appraisal or likely an evaluation when the teacher has probably had insufficient time to process the event. In addition, should the teacher give me a response? I do not know what observations and generalizations led the teacher to her conclusion.

As an example, suppose a teacher asked me as a coach to observe her use of pause time and probing in a learning activity she was facilitating. I might approach the post-conference with these questions.

  • Were there times during the activity when you were especially aware of your pause times? What did you notice during that time about yourself and your students?
  • Were there times that you were particularly conscious of the probing questions you used? What did you notice then?
  • Here are some questions you use following a student’s response. These were to the responding student_______________. These were to the whole class___________________. What do you notice, think, wonder?

I am looking to use my observations to reinforce a teacher’s observation and at times add observations of which the teacher was unaware. Important; At this point, I’m sharing my observations of things I saw and heard, not conclusions I reached. Example: When you probed Ryan’s answer with the question, “How would water temperature impact the reaction?” He remained silent. Many students raised a hand. (I then wait for the teacher’s response.)

As the post-conference continues, with a sense of what the teacher thought when planning and is thinking about what occurred, I’m looking to facilitate a future focus. I approach coaching observations and conferences to be more focused on where we go from here, as compared to evaluations which are focused on ‘what did happen’.

A question like this may open that discussion.

Was there a place in the lesson that you wish was recorded because you’d like to look at it deeper or explore a different approach or strategy?

Or I might share an observation.

I noted that as the lesson continued your pauses following questions were shorter. (Pause) Was that conscious? (Pause) Do you think it may have been in response to something you were observing?

These questions may lead to a teacher shaping a next step. It might be repeating a similar observation with a different class or type of learning activity. Perhaps the teacher wants to repeat the coaching observation with a focus on a few students who might need a different probing/scaffolding teacher action. Perhaps an observation around the teacher using a different approach.

Learn - an inscription from children's wooden blocksWhen facilitating a PLC, my approach is the same in listening and questioning to uncover:

Where are they?
How did they get there?
Where do they want to go?

An extra element when facilitating a PLC is getting the members to listen to each other. That listening leads to the start of professional learning.

A PLC might start with these questions

  • What patterns emerge as you look at the formative assessments? Induction
  • Identify students who need more practice and those who need reteaching. Analysis
  • Are there similarities among the students needing reteaching? Same/Different
  • What common misconception emerges? Insight

To gather more information, PLC members might decide that one of them will gather the small group from each classroom for a reteaching activity. That would be a great time to invite the coach to co-teach or observe the students during the reteaching lesson. The observations of the teacher who worked with the students along with the coach’s observations provide information for insights and next step planning.

As a school leader or instructional coach, consider requesting coaching on your listening and questioning practices. Perhaps recording a short segment of a coaching conference or PLC facilitation and observing it with a colleague. How might you increase the reflection process that can increase insights and learning?

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