There is a poster in one of our classrooms summing up both a truth and a problem for every teacher. The poster simply says, "If a question is worth asking, it's worth everyone answering."
There's no arguing with the statement, but it doesn't follow that everyone will be able to share that answer with everyone else in the class, let alone the teacher.
The best way of dealing with this is through talk partners or small groups.
Rather than simply throwing out a question and risking the hands-up lottery, the teacher shares a question and then pupils discuss their answer with one or more of their peers. Each teacher has their own system of making sure there is some method for choosing which pupils are asked for their answer, allowing their level of understanding and thinking to be made clear. It's assessment for learning at its most straightforward.
This is all very well, but I've often been frustrated when a high level of discussion I have witnessed between two pupils is converted into single words when speaking to me and the whole group. How I wish I could hear answers to some questions from every pupil, unprompted by their classmates and unfazed by the larger group! I found a solution in the guise of that old friend, the digital camera.
I set up a kind of video booth in my cloakroom, which was basically the digital camera on a tripod. Like most cameras in schools, ours have the facility to take video with sound as well as stills. I demonstrated how to make a recording and explained what we were going to do. I asked the class to imagine the camera was their talk partner, so the conventions of speaking in sentences and beginning opinions with "I think..." would still apply. I gave them the key question and some time to form their thoughts then each person in turn got up to record them.
Early results were variable, particularly on the day it got out of synch, so the camera was turned on as a pupil left the cloakroom, only to be turned off when the next one started. Like all classroom routines however, the more established it became and the less novel it was, the more effectively it worked. I am now at the point where I really look forward to watching them.
It only takes about five minutes and in that time, there will be answers that make me want to bang my head on the desk. Also, however, there will be answers that show me just a little bit more of what some pupils have to offer. Not every answer is going to be great, but many are beyond what I could expect to get in a normal classroom context. After all, if a question is worth asking, it is worth everyone answering.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: firstname.lastname@example.org