Understanding student questioning

Abstract

Our investigation focusses on a group of eleven lower-middle-class students from classrooms in which the teachers did most of the talking and students rarely asked any questions. We have examined whether spontaneous discussions among the students in a less structured setting would include questioning, and what kinds of questions they might ask. Our study is based within a historical dialectical materialist framework. We particularly wanted to find out whether, given a material context—an unusual variegated tree—the students would spontaneously ask questions about the tree, or whether they would need some sort of teacher’s guidance in order to do so. We were motivated to raise these research questions partly by worries that a culture of an unquestioning student passivity may exist and that such a culture may be an expedient way of maintaining social norms. Rather than testing out a teaching strategy, our broader aim was to understand the students and find out whether or in what sense they might practice science. We explored the role of the teachers and the context in the students’ questioning process by analysing student talk and interactions with each other and with the tree. We found that, in the course of their spontaneous discussions, even with very little teacher guidance, the students engaged in questioning and asked each other a surprising number of investigatable science questions. Their questioning was mainly authentic, and was both explicit and implicit. We claim that their questioning was a dialectical process in which conflicts arose due to interactions between students, as well as between students and the tree. Even though the students had never done practical science activities in their classrooms, they spontaneously performed some experiments to find answers to their own questions. We present evidence that they did this despite thinking that they were not supposed to do so. We discuss how and why the students engaged in questioning and investigating. We also discuss possibilities for how student questioning could flourish, even if not officially encouraged, at least as a subversive activity.

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Correspondence to Karen Haydock.

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Singh, G., Shaikh, R. & Haydock, K. Understanding student questioning. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 14, 643–697 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-018-9866-0

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Keywords

  • Student questioning
  • Historical dialectical materialism
  • Open-beginninged explorations
  • Explicit and implicit questioning
  • Investigatable questions