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Curriculum

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Asking INTENTional Questions In RE

By Oli Aston

 

How can we ask questions that reflect the intent of the curriculum and enable students to learn more deeply?

The thoughtfulness and delivery of the questions we ask in our classrooms reflect the quality of the teaching and learning we provide. Planning the questions we ask, or at least reflecting on how we come to the decision to use each type of question, demonstrates purposeful consideration of how we implement our curriculum. High quality and effective questioning enables our students to thrive in our classrooms. However, I’ve found it useful and have recently encouraged others to refer back to the intent of our curriculum to determine the shape of the questions that we ask.

I recently contributed to delivering staff CPD on effective questioning during an INSET day. Various members of staff contributed to the CPD but I took responsibility for explaining how the intent of our curriculum should be the starting point for the questions we pose to our students. I believe that the types of questions we ask, whether that be a hinge question, open/closed questions etc., should be determined after we have referred to the intent behind our curriculum and gone back to what it is our curriculum aims to achieve.

And so, the INTENTional question was coined.

The INTENTional question has two meanings. Firstly, it means that our questions are considered and purposeful. Secondly, it involves referring back to what it is we are wanting our students to learn in our subject (our intent) and allowing that to define our questions. It gives the opportunity for our students to practice the skills that we want them to grasp whilst developing oracy skills and the practice of tier 3 vocabulary in context.

To explain how the INTENTional question can be developed and used, take this potential statement from a curriculum intent for Key Stage (KS) 3 RE:

Students will be confronted with theological beliefs from each of the Abrahamic faiths and compare and contrast the beliefs and practices of each religion. Students will build understanding and respect for others. Furthermore, students will be given the opportunity to debate, explore the worldviews of others and be supported in defining their own worldview. 

Although completely fictional, the above statement demonstrates a snippet of what a part of the KS3 RE curriculum intends to deliver. Therefore, in addition to supporting learning materials (booklets or PowerPoints, now is not the time for a debate!), shouldn’t we also allow the intent to influence the dialogue in the classroom? For example, if we intended for our curriculum to provide the opportunity to compare and contrast beliefs and practices, shouldn’t our questioning be shaped by this goal? Furthermore, if we state that students are going to be given the opportunity to ‘explore and define their own worldview’, should our questions be a long the lines of: what does this [insert belief/practice/key figure] mean to you? How relatable is […] to you?

This may seem obvious that we use the intent of our curriculum as a starting point as this is where everything else has originated from. However, going back to basics and defining an agreed way to deliver questions in your subject specific classrooms can only ever be useful, right? When we live out our curriculum intent, that is when we truly deliver intentional teaching and learning.

After every bit of CPD I contribute to/deliver, I ensure that there is always something for colleagues to take away. I love a good resource/piece of pedagogy myself after CPD! So here is your takeaway!

To start this process of defining INTENTional questions, get the department you work in’s curriculum intent up on the board. Then, highlight the key words that underpin what it means to learn in religious education in my case. It looks something like this:

Students will be confronted with theological beliefs from each of the Abrahamic faiths and compare and contrast the beliefs and practices of each religion. Students will build understanding and respect for others. Furthermore, students will be given the opportunity to debate, explore the worldviews of others and be supported in defining their own worldview.

From this, consider how you  will enable your students to experience the intended curriculum through questioning. Potential activities could include writing example questions to provide a consistent guide for staff so that everyone is clear on how it could be put into practice in your curriculum area. Staff could then write question guides that encourage engagement in specific parts. For example, if you are saying students will debate, planned question templates could be ‘what is an argument for or against…?’ or ‘how would…disagree with this view?’

The types of questions we ask therefore will be different depending on the subject. However, we encourage our students to be immersed into our subject when everything that we do, including our questioning, is underpinned by the joys and excitements of what it means to study history, religious education, music, art, dance etc.

Having time to reflect on how defined and refined the delivery of your curriculum is extremely useful when planning questioning. Although teachers may think that questions naturally are shaped by their subject, surely it can never be a useless task to refine and reflect on your approach to implementing your curriculum.

Of course, it won’t be possible to allow students to experience every type of question that could be asked which links to how you intend to deliver your curriculum in one lesson. However, it is possible to map out where each part is most appropriate and to sequence it accordingly. Planned questions are extremely powerful for a consistent delivery of your curriculum and implementation. The argument behind the use of INTENTional questioning promotes high levels of engagement as the full breadth and depth of your curriculum can be experienced. And experienced not only in written form, but by encouraging high levels of practice in our classrooms through verbal contributions too.

INTENTional questions can be extremely powerful, allowing our students to live our curriculum.

 

You can read more articles by Oli Aston here.