Researchers investigate the types of questions used by science teachers who are influenced by a constructive approach to teaching and those who are not

Teacher helping students

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Ibrahim Erdogan of Mus Alparslan University, Turkey, and Todd Campbell of Utah State University, US, have characterised teachers into two groups, ie high-level and low-level users of a constructivist approach to teaching in the classroom. To gain further insight into the practices of these two distinct groups, they examined the types of questions the teachers used in their teaching.   

Teachers who use a high level of constructivist teaching involve pupils in active investigations with peers and encourage pupils to share ideas with one another. In a classroom where the approach is used at a low level pupils are dependent on the teacher, discussing the science only with the teacher who then confirms their contributions.  

Erdogan and Campbell studied the teaching of 22 teachers from schools in mid-western US by examining videos of three lessons delivered by each teacher. They used a recognised research instrument for identifying constructivist practice called 'Expert Science Teacher Educational Evaluation Model (ESTEEM) to analyse each video. The researchers selected the two videos with the lowest score and the two videos with the highest score and analysed the questions asked during these lessons.  

The study highlighted a difference in the number of questions asked by the two groups. The teachers classified as exhibiting a low level of constructivist practice asked 44 questions whereas the high-level users asked 148 questions in the same period of time. The high-level group asked more open-ended questions (47 per cent of the questions asked) than the low-level group (16 per cent). The majority of open-ended questions used by the high-level group were designed to challenge students' understanding. The teacher generally refrained from providing an answer and gave the student the opportunity to evaluate the extent to which the answer was correct.  

The majority of the closed-ended questions favoured by the low-level group were concept completion questions. For these the teacher provided some information and then looked to the students to add more information from what they had already been taught. The teachers saw this as a way of assisting their students' learning by proving a link between one piece of information and another.  

The low-level group also used a lot of task-orientated questions to manage classroom activities and help students understand the science as they did assignments or investigations. The high-level group were less worried about such classroom management issues and tended to use questions that developed students' problem-solving skills.