Framing Questions
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(1 of 2)
Author: BV

Dr. Harlen,

A couple of questions that have come up are, "How does one get away from, or avoid, leading questions?" and "Are leading questions taking away from the student's learning or thought processes?" After careful consideration and after doing the selected reading, I have concluded that leading questions have their place--especially when I, the teacher, have a learning outcome or "purpose" in mind.

Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge,

(2 of 2)
Author: Wynne Harlen

Dear BV --

About ‘leading questions’ – I suppose it all depends on what you mean by this term, but I assume it is asking closed questions which have only one obvious answer - ‘does ice float because water expands when it freezes’ type of thing? Leading questions introduce ideas, or links between ideas of events, that the students may not have thought about for themselves. To that extent they do take away from students the freedom to think through the problem for themselves, but they also, as you say, enable you as a teacher to ensure that the students develop the ideas that you have in mind as your goal.

There is often a point at which the teacher has to introduce different ways of thinking or make a link between ideas that the students have not made for themselves. There is a better way of doing this, however, than the inquisition-type of question asking. This is through ‘scaffolding’. In scaffolding the students are introduced to a different idea from their own which they are invited to consider, to think about. It means supporting students in using a new idea until it makes sense to them and becomes part of their own thinking.

So the teacher might say: ‘You found that water takes up more space when it freezes to become ice, think about how the weight of a certain volume of water would compare with the same volume of ice’. Or you can ask them to predict what would happen on the basis of water expanding on freezing, or if it stayed the same in volume. Scaffolding is, though, particularly useful when the alternate ideas can’t be tested in practice.

It is difficult, for example, for students to realise that a moving object would go on moving forever if there were no force stopping it. Since in practice things that move do stop, there must be a force stopping them. The idea of ‘friction’ is often offered as an explanation but without understanding the situation is there were no friction.

Carrying out a 'thought experiment' helps the students but they are unlikely to do this unless assisted by the scaffolding of the teacher. The only difference between scaffolding and a leading question is that the former leaves the students to do the thinking and to work something out for themselves so that it becomes their idea.



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