Engaging with the research presented here will deepen your understanding of strategic questioning to provide assessment for learning, to stimulate mathematical thinking, and to teach better.


Teaching mathematics is more than telling. This research explains that using questioning builds deep understanding and the metalanguage to explain.

This resource explains that strategic questioning is one way the teacher can seek evidence to establish where students are in their learning, that strategic questioning provides teachers with the opportunity to identify and correct misunderstandings and gaps in knowledge, as well as identify the need for extension work, and so informs the teacher’s planning and selection of teaching strategies to move students from where they are to where they need to go.

Jenni Way’s research reveals that 93% of teacher questions are “lower order” knowledge based questions, and while many primary teachers have developed considerable skill in good questioning in other curriculum areas, they do not transfer these to Mathematics. Because of this, children may be inexperienced in higher order questioning and thinking in mathematics.

Jennie Pennant’s article asks us to consider what is happening in our classrooms – Who does most of the talking in whole-class parts of the lesson? What questions does the teacher ask? Who answers the questions? How well does the teacher listen to the students’ answers and seek to understand what they are saying? What does the teacher do with the students’ answers? How does the teacher facilitate the learning? How confident are the students to take a risk, to try out ideas, to make mistakes? What does the teacher’s body language communicate?

Teaching by Asking Instead of by Telling, by Rick Garlikov is a transcript of a teaching experiment, using the Socratic method, with a regular third grade class in a suburban elementary school.

Dylan Wiliam discusses the use of a wide range of classroom techniques to improve questioning, along with ways to create and capitalise upon “teachable moments” and the defining characteristics of effective diagnostic questions.

Rick Garlikov’s research finds that the typical uses of questions in schools are (1) primarily on quizzes and tests which are then graded, or (2) sometimes to elicit class participation (which may not be very inclusive, if the teacher just moves on as soon as the first person is found who gives the desired answer). It finds that this is a petty use of questions that tends to discourage student enthusiasm and learning. Instead, the Socratic method – teaching by asking Instead of by telling is proposed.


Grouping students into ability groups means the teacher decides what level of mathematics each child is ready to learn.

This review recommended that the use of ability grouping across classes in primary and junior secondary schooling be discouraged given the evidence that it contributes to negative learning and attitudinal outcomes for less well achieving students and yields little positive benefit for others, thus risking our human capital goals. (pages 46 – 49, recommendation 9)

Jo Boaler’s article investigated the impact of different teaching and grouping methods upon learning and found that the schools that used mixed-ability approaches resulted in higher overall attainment and more equitable outcomes.

Boaler, Wiliam and Brown’s study found that ability-grouping was associated with curriculum polarisation, which was enacted through restriction of opportunity to learn for students in lower sets, and students in top sets being required to learn at a pace which was, for many students, incompatible with understanding.

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