Monday, August 8, 2022

Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs)

Often times I get asked what is the purpose of circling and asking students questions in class, especially when it starts to become really monotonous and repetitive for students. Essentially, asking questions is a great way to assess comprehension in the moment among students, since it can be very easy for students to "fake" understanding. If I ask a target language question, and students mis-answer, then I know right away there has been a breakdown somewhere in the comprehensibility of my messages. As a result, I can re-adjust in the moment. Also, asking questions is another way to continue the current dialogue in the class. I have heard Ben Slavic compare the process to a balloon which we are trying to keep in the air. The more we can dialogue with students using comprehensible language about a sentence/topic, the longer the "balloon can stay in the air." Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs) are a great way to do this. But honestly, I feel like I am horrible at PQAs.

I do have Ben Slavic's PQA in a Wink (a great resource), but when it comes to questioning, I feel like my questioning just peters out after awhile because I do not know where to go with it or students begin to tire of it. However, as I look over what kinds of questions I ask students, I realize that I actually do ask a lot of PQAs and that PQAs can take a lot of different forms:
  • Do you like/have/want? - In many ways, this is a natural personal question to ask students such as do you like to eat pizza, do you have a dog, do you want a lion? But again, these questions can get really old with students even if you add details to them such as do you like to eat pizza at night or in the morning, do you have a big dog or a small dog, do you want a big lion or a small lion? So as extension questions, consider asking...
  • Would you... - In the summer of 2021, I was serving as a cohort coach for the virtual IFLT Conference. I was coaching teachers on circling, and a teacher had volunteered to do be coached on circling using the structure "eats". She did the basic, "Maria eats insects. Does Maria eat insects? Does Maria eat insects or Takis? Does Maria eat Takis?" However, then immediately she turned the structure into a PQA, directing it to a "student," asking "Do you eat insects? Would you eat insects? Would you eat insects for $100?" Now the questioning became interesting! I wanted to know how the student would respond! Moreover, this teacher was demonstrating how to shelter vocabulary, not grammar by keeping the vocabulary word "eat" but now changing it to a subjunctive form for the purpose of communication. This teacher did a great job of keeping the "balloon" in the air!
  • Asking for examples - Very often, I like to ask students to give me examples of something based on a vocabulary word for which I want to get in lots of repetitions or where I think we can get in some good discussion. For example, for a movie talk where the word "witch" was being introduced, I asked students to give me an example of a witch in a book, TV show, or movie. Wow, students were volunteering answers left and right (I did not realize that there were so many), because for many, this was a personal question of interest. I could extend the questioning to be "What witch did Carson suggest?" "Who suggested Glinda as a witch?" A student suggested Mary Poppins as a witch, and suddenly that became a question for discussion - "Who of you thinks that Mary Poppins is a witch? Or is she just magical?"
  • Predictions - In a Movie Talk or a reading which we are doing at sight, I like to ask students to predict what they think will happen next, "What will happen next?" "Do you think that X will be happy?" "How will X respond?" Once I get a response from a student, I can then ask the class, "Who else thinks this?" or "Who here does not think this?"  Again, this can be a personal question of interest for many. 
So consider using many of these different types of PQAs with your students!

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