#8. Promoting Dialogue — The Art of Questioning

It is not the quantity of questions that determines the effectiveness of a dialogue, but the quality. Questioning is an art.

In this post, I’m going to assume that the questions are being formulated by the facilitator alone. We will look at the other side of the story in a future post.

The questions that you ask should solve two broad purposes:

  1. For the learner (one who answers), it should act as a medium for self-understanding.
  2. For the facilitator (one who questions), it should act as a tool to uncover valuable feedback from the learners by encouraging them to express freely. The feedback is used to understand the learners and optimize instruction.

Here is a small checklist that facilitators can answer about the way they question in their learning environments. Hopefully, it should address point number 1 (a medium for self-understanding).

a. Do I ask the same type of questions? (Ex: Answers for which are almost always Yes/No)

b. Do I ask difficult questions too early?

c. Do I ask challenging questions?

d. Do I ask probing questions?

e. Do I ask questions to a selective group of learners?

f. Do I ask questions that are unambiguous?

g. Do I ask questions in a non-threatening manner?

Once you have done a self-audit, you can try the following simple ways to refine your questioning techniques:

  1. Prepare questions in advance — try to prepare questions that are different (a mix of open-ended and closed-ended)
  2. Think about the sequence of questions. Even the most powerful questions will have no impact if asked out of context.
  3. Try the exercise from the previous post on positive language — “Try to tell the same thing…in a different way”. All you need to do is replace the “tell” with “ask”.
  4. Do a self-audit after each class.

Good questions can definitely motivate learners to learn, to be curious, to think critically and to develop a positive and meaningful discussion.

How artful are you?