There are typically 8 ways students answer questions in lessons:
When a teacher asks a question, the students can respond in a variety of ways.
It would be an easy job for a teacher if every time the teacher asked a question the student provided an appropriate response; but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Teachers will receive expected responses, unexpected responses and everything in between.
The type of response a student provides can indicate a number of things to the teacher regarding the student’s level of understanding, level of thinking and emotional state.
The student response types explored in this chapter list of possible responses that students may provide to a question and consideration has been given to how the teacher could potentially interpret each response.
The 8 ways students answer questions in lessons are explored below.
A student would provide a straight, truthful answer to the question and offer a legitimate attempt to provide a suitable answer.
If the question being asked has an expected correct answer, or a range of appropriate responses, then the teacher would expect this type of response from students.
A student would not provide a truthful response to the question but instead offer a response which they believe others would expect them to give.
This type of response is not usually provided when answering factual questions which have a specific correct answer, but it may occur for other types of questions where student perspectives, attitudes, beliefs and values form part of the response.
The teacher should be aware of social influences and the need for students to conform.
Teachers should aim to positively challenge this type of response, if the context deems it appropriate to do so.
Sometimes a student will provide a response to a question which misses the point.
They will not be doing this intentionally to avoid the question or to be disruptive, instead they will have misunderstood the question or related the question to the wrong information and knowledge that is needed to provide an appropriate response.
When this occurs, the teacher may want to consider restating the question for clarity, asking further clarifying questions or using probing questions to explore the student’s response in more detail.
Leading questions can also be useful in this situation to guide and support the student to provide a more appropriate response.
A student is able to provide a response, but they do not address the question fully.
It is important to check whether the student’s understanding of the topic in question is limited to the response they have provided or if they have a greater level of understanding which they have failed to include in their answer.
If the purpose of asking the question is to check for learning, the teacher would want to use additional questions to determine the student’s level of understanding.
A wide range of question types could be used to achieve either of these approaches.
The student deliberately answers a different question to the one they are being asked in order to avoid dealing with the uncomfortable question they have been faced with.
Politicians are well known for this type of response.
This typically occurs when the student either has a poor understanding of the topic, or when the student lacks confidence in their answer.
Ultimately, this is an avoidance tactic used to distract attention from their inability to respond appropriately.
Sometimes this can be demonstrated in a highly explicit way, but it can also be demonstrated in a more subtle way which can be harder to detect.
If faced with this situation, the teacher may want to consider using probing questions to gain further detail from the student.
However, the teacher will need to proceed with caution as if the student is avoiding the question there may be an underlying reason for this and a 1-2-1 discussion with the student to identify any issues they may be having, may be a more appropriate approach.
A student will appear to require more time to respond to the question.
The student will not be trying to avoid the question, instead they will have every intension to respond but they will be finding it challenging to respond quickly.
Students will either mumble a waffled response as they try to speak and think at the same time, or they will pause between words and use filler sounds such as ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ as they try to build a response.
In some cases, the student may simply ask for more time to think.
This relates to ‘wait time’ which is covered in an earlier chapter, ‘How Do Teachers Use Questions in the Classroom.’
The teacher could ask additional questions to tease out the information from the student, but as increased wait time promotes thinking, the teacher could either wait a little longer for the student to provide a response or the teacher could return to the student at a later point; allowing them time to think in the meantime.
A student provides an answer which is distorted by bias or stereotyping.
The student will be unaware that their response is distorted, and in some cases, it could be beneficial to analyse their response to identify the bias and to use this as a point of discussion.
When discussing bias and stereotyping some care should be taken as some topics can be sensitive and emotive.
The teacher’s role in this situation is to guide students thinking in an open and inclusive way, to gain multiple and differing view points and to turn the distortion into an opportunity for learning.
A student may provide no response at all.
This could be due to their inability to answer the question or their lack of confidence in answering the question.
If the question is too challenging for the student, the teacher could consider rephrasing the question or using a lower order question to make the situation more accessible for the student.
If the lack of response is due to a lack of confidence, a similar approach of rephrasing and using low order question could be considered.
Alternatively, the teacher may feel it more appropriate to check the student’s understanding at a later point in the lesson via a 1-2-1 discussion so as not to single the student out in front of the class.
Sometimes a student will simply refuse to answer the question in order to be disruptive or to deliberately disengage with the lesson.
In this situation the teacher could consider using additional questions and encouragement to generate a response however if the student is not participating in the lesson it would be considered a behavioural concern which would need to be dealt with using other means and processes.
If you are interested in finding out what my favourite questioning techniques are you should check our the article above.