Peer Coaching: Researching Questioning Strategies & Listening Skills

ISTE Coaching Standard 1 provides four benchmarks for technology coaches to inspire and participate in the development and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformational change throughout the instructional environment. My focus is on benchmark d: Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage and change process in schools and classrooms. ISTE Coaching Standard 2 provides eight benchmarks for technology coaches to assist teachers in using technology effectively for assessing student learning, differentiating instruction, and providing rigorous, relevant and engaging learning experiences for all students. My focus is on benchmark f: Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.

How you ask a question is as important as what you ask.

My Question
How can I improve my questioning strategies and skills in order to help my coaching partner to reflect on and improve their practice and to become an effective instructional decision maker?

My Resolution
I am now fascinated with the “art of asking questions”—specifically, the probing questions that are the lifeblood of a successful peer coaching relationship. In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, Les Foltos writes, “Effective probing questions usually start with a paraphrase, and they are often open ended. Stems or sentence starters might include the following: You said…; have you ever thought about…? Why…? What might the next step be? Are there other strategies that you could use to…” (2013)? Making sure that the teacher retains ownership over their learning is of great importance; asking the right probing questions sets the stage for the teacher to reflect on their own experience and use their own judgement in order to improve their practice.

During this module, I had the opportunity to model a coaching session with Les Foltos in a YouTube Live session that was shared with the members of my Seattle Pacific University Digital Education Leadership Masters (SPU DEL) program cohort. This inspired me to search (in vain) for more videos of peer coaching sessions featuring excellent probing questions. Foltos noted, “Asking good questions is at the heart of effective coaching… It is hard to see questions in action, in part because we—educators—are still pretty private about our practice” (personal communication, October 22, 2016).

Although I did not find exactly what I wanted, I did find resources that sparked deep thinking about questioning strategies. Mike Vaughn’s TEDx talk, “How to Ask Better Questions,” gets really good at about the 7-minute mark, when he begins to speak about the questioning skills of top performers who are “able to suspend judgement just long enough to understand someone else’s perspective” (2015). An audible, “Yes,” escaped my lips as I nodded in understanding… Rather than launching directly into a dumping of their immediate thoughts, these top performers pause and consider the the situation from perspectives other than their own. This skill is critical for the peer coaching relationship, where teachers will need to pause to consider their partner teacher’s perspective – classroom, curriculum, goals, values, etc. Vaughn then launches into excellent advice about how to ask a great question. He concludes,

“In an era in which computers are getting better at answering questions, we need people who are getting better at asking questions” (Vaughn 2015).

The National School Reform Faculty’s (NSRF) “Pocket Guide to Probing Questions” features a long list of possible probing questions. The creators of this pocket guide point out that generating a probing question is difficult, and I agree. It may seem simple, but I know it will take a lot of practice in order to seamlessly recall the right question for a particular coaching situation.

“Remember that how you say something is as important as what you say.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) created a webinar, “Peer Coaching: Pathways for Reflection, Growth, Teaching Excellence, and Student Achievement.” The presenter, Pam Robbins, begins to speak about questioning strategies at the 45-minute mark, and I really like what she says about word choice. For example, that “could you” implies a question of ability, which may raise a wall, whereas “would you” implies a question of choice, which is more likely to open a door to collaboration. Essentially, how you ask a question is as important as what you ask.

I have merely scratched the surface of my research into questioning strategies. My colleagues in the SPU DEL program recommended the book titles below, which now reside on my new “Peer Coaching” Goodreads bookshelf. Also below is my new “Peer Coaching” YouTube Playlist. I’m looking forward to using these platforms to connect with other educators about this topic.

My “Peer Coaching” Goodreads bookshelf:

Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration by Les Foltos

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier

The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation

 

 

 

 

 

My “Peer Coaching” YouTube Playlist:

Works Cited

  1. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2015). Peer coaching: Pathways for reflection, growth, teaching excellence, and student achievement. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/professional-development/webinars/peer-coaching-webinar.aspx
  2. National School Reform Faculty (n.d.). Pocket guide to probing questions. Retrieved from http://www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/probing_questions_guide.pdf
  3. Vaughn, M. (2015). How to ask better questions. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/J8xfuCcXZu8

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for your thorough exploration of questioning. I love the video and “Goodreads bookshelf” list at the bottom!

  2. What a valuable conversation. You really did a great job honing in on some quality and practical resources.

    Your Pam Robbins section reminded me of my 5th grade teacher many years ago… “Can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know, can you?” “May I use the bathroom?” “Yes, you may.” Her persistence with my peers hammered the importance of semantics into my head. I wonder if I’ll think of “could” and “would” in the same way?

    Love the embedded Goodreads bookshelf and YouTube playlist– great visuals and resources.

  3. Really found the Vaughn video valuable. He points to what a great educator Mary Lou Ley said. The quality of a probing question is determined by its impact on the receiver. Suspending judgement and avoiding giving your opinion or two keys to strong quality probing questions.

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