Asking the Right Questions


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It was noted by Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S.T. (2013) that : “Teachers most often ask lower-order, convergent questions that rely on students’ factual recall of prior knowledge rather than asking higher-order, divergent questions that promote deep thinking, requiring students to analyze and evaluate concepts” (abstract).

This got me wondering – am I asking the right questions? I ask my students a lot of questions in class hoping that these questions will promote a deep understanding of the material, which will in turn translate to better outcomes for labouring and post partum women and their infants. After looking at the data Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S.T.(2013) presented in their article about nursing instructors I wasn’t so sure anymore:

During classroom-based instruction, researchers observed 91 faculty members asking 3,407 questions, and categorized the type and level of each question posed.11 The majority of the questions asked were lower-level questions (68.9%). In a similarly designed study, Sellappah and colleagues found that during practice-based experiences, clinical instructors asked lower-level questions 91.2% of the time.” (para 9).

So where do my questions fit in? Do I spend most of my time asking questions that are, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised) focused on the students’ recall and comprehension of the subject matter instead of higher order thinking like applying, analysing, evaluating and creating?

I decided to challenge myself to see if I could use different questioning techniques to engage all levels of the cognitive domains during a 6 hour workshop that I facilitate. To prepare for the workshop I took a look at my material. The purpose of the workshop was to present basic perinatal concepts to LPNs and non-maternity RNs. In order to be appropriate for this group of students I needed to keep some of the learning outcomes at the basic levels of recall and comprehension. For example:

The students will understand theory & demonstrate novice level skill in the following practice stations:

  • Leopold’s maneuvers
  • Labour support
  • Nurse assisted birth
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Prolapse cord
  • Post partum haemorrhage

To integrate higher levels of cognitive thinking of applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, case studies for the obstetrical emergencies listed above as well as for an uncomplicated birth were created.

To start the day, I decided to have the students write down their responses to the question “ What I know about maternity nursing” and “What I want to learn about maternity nursing.” This is questioning technique is known as the K-W- L strategy.I found it to be very useful to start the day with self-reflection and to determine if what I thought the class needed to learn was what they actually wanted to learn. I think that starting out with a discussion about what the students wanted to learn helped to create a safe environment for learning and sharing as they felt that their opinions mattered.

As I took in the responses and wrote them up on the board I had the students go over the antenatal record for the case study we were going to look at. I encouraged the students to do this individually first, then as pairs. I instructed them to circle information they thought was important or had questions about and to discuss this with their partners. It was wonderful to hear the discussions that were taking place! Without me even asking any questions, students were recalling and sharing what they knew about maternity nursing and were analyzing and evaluating the data for potential maternal and fetal risks and even went to far as to determine topics for patient teaching for this client!

Next we dove into the learning and case studies. I had a copy of Blooms Taxonomy beside me as I had planned to work my way up from recall to evaluation in a progressive manner. What has happened to me before is that there is a lot of movement between the domains. In reflecting whether this was effective or not I found this statement from Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013:  “It is appropriate to ask questions to address all cognitive domains as long as the desired learning outcome is kept in mind and a good mix of questions is used during each teaching session” (para 2). When this happened again during the workshop I decided to let it flow, disregarded my plan for an orderly progression through the domains and focused on the quality of my questions.

To keep a good mix of questions one of the pitfalls I was mindful of was to keep the Initiate- Response- Evaluation model of questioning to a minimum or not use it at all. This is where the teacher asks a question gets a response from the student then evaluates the response without engaging other students (Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.,n.d.). This is a teacher lead questioning model that while it“. . . can be an effective way to check for factual knowledge or recall, it typically does not encourage higher-order thinking” Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.. (n.d.) page 1.

Another tip I learned was to frame questions using a 3 parts (Asking Effective Questions, 2011, page 8) :

  • an invitation to think
  • a cognitive process
  • a specific topic.

For example: Upon reviewing this case study how might the severity of this post partum haemorrhage been reduced?

Allowing time for a response is something I need to continue to work on. In the article Asking Effective Questions it is recommended to wait 3 seconds or more for a response. I cannot believe how long 3 seconds feels when you are the one up front asking the questions!

Asking the right questions is something I will continue to work on. Who knew it there could so much to asking the right question?

Mmm, the rhetorical question. . . I didn’t even touch on that!


Asking Effective Questions Capacity Building Series Special Edition #2 (2011) Student Achievement Division retrieved from:

Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.. (n.d.) Deeper Learning through Questioning TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 12: Deeper Learning through Questioning TEAL Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy retrieved from:

Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best Practice Strategies for Effective Use of Questions as a Teaching Tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education77(7), 155. retrieved from:




One thought on “Asking the Right Questions

  1. Pingback: Teaching So They Learn: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #1 – teachingadventuressite

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