The Four Purposes of Maths Questions

September 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

A good teacher will be asking themselves, as they write a maths exercise, “What is the purpose of this question?”

There are, in my view, four types of maths question

  1. Questions that teach
  2. Questions that reinforce understanding
  3. Questions that test
  4. Questions that generate discussion

Questions that teach are rare. This is because they are difficult to write and traditionally, teachers have done the teaching. Examples of such questions can be found in my earlier blog about inductive learning: https://doodlemaths.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/inductive-learning/ .  Children like doing these types of questions. They also don’t mind getting them wrong.

Questions that reinforce are very common. These are easy to write and extremely important when it comes to long-term understanding. Children like doing these questions – as long as they are getting them right.

Questions that test are, for many teachers, favourite questions to write. They are more interesting to write and help a teacher assess the ability of a child. For this reason they are often overused – with damaging consequences: if introduced too early they can damage a child’s confidence. Some children thrive on these questions, but for others, these questions lead them to a dread of maths.

Questions that generate discussion are created by skilled teachers who have the ability to control the direction of the ensuing discussion to reach the desired learning outcome. All children like participating in these discussions as long as it is conducted appropriately.

Before the advent of ICT, the learning process was typically: teacher teaches; child does questions of type 2 and 3; teacher marks questions to gauge level of understanding.

Tutoring websites have tried to replicate this with: video/animation teaches; child does questions of type 2 and 3; website marks questions to gauge level of understanding.

So far, we have missed the huge teaching opportunity that technology has presented to us: to get children involved in the learning process from step one. It is easy to generate questions of type 1 on the iPad, and children love doing them – this is the way children should be learning.

 

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