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How do teachers handle pupilsí responses during question and answers? PDF Print E-mail
Research taster
Question and answer sessions can be an important part of whole class teaching and learning. The way in which pupil answers are handled can affect the subsequent course of discussion, closing down or opening up discussions in particular areas.  You may have a clear learning objective in mind and use the way in which you respond to pupils’ answers to steer the discussion in the direction you want to go.  But research suggests that pupils benefit when teachers take time to probe the reasons underlying their answers, rather than ignoring unwanted contributions.  Image Class discussion can also become more fruitful if pupils are invited to comment on one another’s contributions.  Pause before responding, this can also prompt pupils to extend their original answers. 
Your evidence  
You might wish to investigate possible responses to pupils during question and answer exchanges.  You could agree to work with a colleague and take turns to observe one another for three five-minute periods during a teaching session – perhaps at the beginning, middle and end of a lesson.  You could use the following queries to consider how pupil responses are dealt with.

•    Was the pupils’ response heard or acknowledged?
•    Was there a pause before the teacher responded to the pupil?
•    Did the teacher prompt the pupil to give additional detail or explanation?
•    Did the teacher invite other pupils to respond to the initial pupil answer?

You could explore with your colleague the purpose behind their response to particular pupils.  Were there any pupil answers that appeared to be ignored? If so, what were the reasons for this?  How were ‘incorrect’ responses handled?  What were the effects of handling pupil responses in a particular way? 

Moving forward
Now that you have expanded your awareness of the issues surrounding handling  pupils’ responses you might wish to experiment with new ways of responding.  For instance, if you are aware that your responses to pupils are usually swift, perhaps you could try out the effects of pausing before offering a response.  What happens to the subsequent discussion if you prompt pupils to “Go on…” or ask others what they think about an answer? What do your pupils’ various responses tell you about their individual levels of understanding?

Find out more
Further info   Myhill, D., Jones, S. and Hopper, R. (2006) Talking, listening learning: effective talk in the primary classroom, Open University Press, Maidenhead

Developing learning through talk: research report

GTC Research of the Month summary at:

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