Educational Probing Techniques

Eliciting Deeper Student Responses

Teacher with digital tablet near blackboard in classroom
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How you interact with students is extremely important. As you go through your daily lessons, you should pose questions for students to answer or require them to respond orally to topics the class is discussing. You can use a number of techniques to help elicit more detailed answers from students as they respond to your prompts and questions. These probing methods can help you guide students to either refine or expand on their answers.

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Explansion or Clarification

With this technique, you try to get students to further explain or clarify their answers. This can be helpful when students give very short responses. A typical probe might be: "Could you please explain that a little further?" Bloom's Taxonomy can provide you with a great framework for getting students to dig deeper and think critically.

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Get students to further explain their answers by expressing a feigned lack of understanding of their responses. This can be a helpful or a challenging probe depending on your tone of voice and/or facial expression. It's key that you pay attention to your own tone when responding to students. A typical probe might be: "I don't understand your answer. Can you explain what you mean?"

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Minimal Reinforcement

With this technique, you give students a small amount of encouragement to help move them closer to a correct response. In this way, students feel like they are supported while you try to get them close to a well-phrased response. A typical probe might be: "You're moving in the right direction."

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Minimal Criticism

You can also help students give better responses by steering them clear of mistakes. This is not meant as a criticism of students' responses but as a guide to help them navigate toward the correct answer. A typical probe might be: "Be careful, you are forgetting this step..."

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Reconstruction or Mirroring

In this technique, you listen to what the student says and then restate the information. You would then ask the student if you were correct in rephrasing her response. This can be helpful for providing the class with clarification of a confusing student answer. A typical probe (after rephrasing the student's response) might be: "So, you're saying that X plus Y equals Z, correct?"

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This simple probe requires students to justify their answer. It helps elicit complete responses from students, especially from those who tend to give single-word answers, like "yes" or "no," to complex questions. A typical probe might be: "Why?"

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Use this technique to provide more than one student with a chance to respond. This method is useful when dealing with controversial topics. This can be a challenging technique, but if you use it effectively, you can get more students involved in the discussion. A typical probe might be: "Susie says the revolutionaries leading the Americans during the Revolutionary War were traitors. Juan, what is your feeling about this?"

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You can use this technique in a variety of ways. You might help tie a student's answer to other topics to show connections. For example, if a student answers a question about Germany at the start of World War II, you might ask the student to relate this to what happened to Germany at the end of World War I. You can also use this technique to help move a student response that's not quite on topic back to the topic at hand. A typical probe might be: "What's the connection?"