Laissez-faire Questioning in the Classroom

Earlier this week (June 2019), the wonderful Kate Jones* posted her retrieval practice placemat:

I really love this for a few reasons:

  1. It’s retrieval practice. If you’re unsure of what this is or why it is very important in the classroom, have a look at some of the articles here.
  2. All of the tasks are quite generalized. They can be applied across a multitude of subjects and ability levels.
  3. The laissez-faire nature of the tasks. This may be my favorite point. Notice how there’s very little subject-specific ‘help’ from the question to assist the learner, forcing the student to recall all of the information. When designing my own reviews for my students, I try to remember that I don’t want the question doing the cognitive work for the students. Provide the framework for answering the question, but allow the student to do all of the domain specific work. Learning is effortful. 🙂
  4. The potential for quality study habits to be formed. If students can keep these general questioning prompts in their mind, they can always be used for study/practice no matter the subject. This questioning is much better for providing feedback to the students and for retention of material than simply rereading or highlighting their notes.
  5. It is simple. Learning doesn’t have to be complicated. I think, in general, many of the ‘innovative’ stuff we’re doing today only complicates the classroom. We should aim to make the classroom simpler.  

I will certainly use this in my classroom. It provides the students with many different opportunities to retrieve important material, it provides an opportunity for students to assess what they know and what they don’t know, and it reinforces more efficient and effective study/practice habits.

How can this be used in your classroom?

Are there any minor changes you might make for your classroom?

*Kate also has a great book out, Love to Teach. Buy it. Read it. It’s full of fantastic resources for the classroom…by a classroom teacher. Highly recommend.   

3 comments

  1. What key words…,state 3 key facts…, & explain a key concept or idea…, seems like very flexible retrieval question frames. The other two prompts which require discussion or the construction and answering of 3 questions are more demanding and complicated to do. Students would need time to construct three questions based on retrieval. The discussion prompt is too vague it begs the question discuss what? Students often don’t know how different words, facts or ideas relate schematically, so it can be unfruitful for them to just simply discuss. To practice retrieval I would prompt them to discuss a topic, they have to by bringing up related subtopics. Once they have exhausted all they know about a particular subtopic and at least two people have contributed move on to another subtopic about

    I don’t like the idea of given the students the option to do any one of the five prompts. I would allow them to choose from the three knowledge based question and ask them to preform the q&a or discussion activities separately and by themselves.

    This may be obvious but all of these activities would be best performed at the beginning of class as a review and would mandate between 10-20 minutes of class time, correct?

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