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An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Strategic questioning and its link to assessment for learning

Toni Glasson
Toni Glasson is an experienced teacher, curriculum writer and consultant, who assists schools with curriculum design and development, particularly in the areas of English and Literacy.

Through assessment for learning, or formative assessment, teachers seek evidence of where students are currently placed in their learning. Strategic questioning is one form of this assessment, by which teachers can assess student knowledge, understanding and skills, that then informs the teacher’s planning and selection of teaching and learning strategies to help students achieve.

Curriculum Corporation is shortly to release the Strategic Questioning DVD, a product designed to enhance teachers' professional learning. The DVD has been produced on behalf of the education departments of the States, Territories and Commonwealth of Australia.

This DVD builds on the work of the Assessment for Learning Project (2003–2004), which resulted in a professional learning website designed to promote the use of assessment for learning strategies in the classroom. This website contains professional learning modules, sample assessment tasks and links to professional reading.

During 2005, in an extension of the Assessment for Learning Project, teachers in several schools were involved in professional learning which culminated in the production of the DVD. The DVD supplements the professional learning module on strategic questioning and features classroom footage which shows the teachers implementing aspects of strategic questioning, as well as interviews in which they reflect on their experience of implementation. The featured lessons were conducted in primary (literacy, numeracy and personal development) and secondary classrooms (English, Maths, Science and Geography). In keeping with the purpose of professional development, the video footage is supplemented by suggestions for a series of workshops which could be conducted at the school level.  

The DVD focuses on ten aspects of strategic questioning:

  • Preparing key questions. In their lesson planning teachers identify the learning intention for the lesson and a small number of key questions related to that learning intention. These are the questions that the teacher wants the students to be able to answer by the end of the lesson. Key questions give shape to a lesson by keeping the focus on the learning intention and assist teachers in their assessment of what students have learnt.
  • Asking closed questions. Closed questions are used in the classroom for very specific purposes. In the interviews teachers talk about how they use closed questions, for example, to remind students of prior learning and to establish knowledge of key content. Emphasis, however, is on moving beyond simple recall and comprehension questions to those which require deeper thinking on the part of the students and which provide teachers with more information about student understanding.
  • Asking open questions. Open questions promote thinking skills and provide the teacher with information about the student as learner by requiring students to apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate (as described, for example, in Bloom’s Taxonomy). That information is then used by the teacher in a formative way to shape future teaching and learning experiences.
  • Using wait time or thinking time. Wait time or thinking time is used by teachers to give students time to consider their responses to questions, especially open questions. Research by Rowe (1972) found that when students are given more time to respond to questions their answers are longer, their responses more confident and failure to respond is less likely.
  • Hands down. ‘Hands down’ is a strategy used by teachers in association with wait time. Its purpose is to encourage greater student participation in lessons and to make more passive students aware that their contributions are both required and valued. In their interviews teachers describe how they deal with the challenges associated with changing this entrenched aspect of classroom culture and the beneficial results that can be obtained by implementing it.
  • Prompting students. Prompting students to explain, add to or amend their initial response to a question can encourage the student to think more deeply and provide the teacher with more information about the student as learner. 
  • Building on ‘wrong’ answers. The teacher’s capacity to build on student responses–in particular those responses that are incorrect, inadequate or show faulty thinking–is an important element in building a classroom culture in which students are prepared to ‘have a go’ without fear of failure.  
  • Acknowledging student responses positively. Responding positively to students is another way that the teacher creates a classroom culture in which the students feel valued and, therefore, more willing to participate in a lesson. Research emphasises the significance of the link between student self-esteem and motivation to learn.
  • Distributing questions around the classroom. Strategic questioning only achieves maximum impact if questions are distributed around the classroom rather than directed to a few willing students. 
  • Encouraging students to ask questions. Encouraging students to ask questions of each other and of the teacher is an important aspect of strategic questioning. In the interviews the teachers describe how they model the asking of questions and the strategies they use to provide students with opportunities to ask questions. The classroom footage contains examples of students asking questions of each other.

A copy of the Strategic Questioning DVD is available to schools free of charge and an online order can be placed by visiting the Professional development section of the Assessment for Learning website. It is expected that distribution will commence in early March.

Official launches of the DVD will take place in each of the States and Territories.



Rowe, MB 1972, ‘Wait-time and rewards as instructional variables, their influence in language, logic and fate control’. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Chicago, 1972.



Subject Headings

Professional development
Teaching and learning