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Want answers? Ask the right questions in the right way

Children often know what they need to aid their learning, says Nancy Gedge. All it takes is for the teacher to take the time to find out

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Children often know what they need to aid their learning, says Nancy Gedge. All it takes is for the teacher to take the time to find out

I’m lucky in that I’ve worked in a lot of different schools in the past, and I get to visit a lot of different schools now. This means I can steal all the good ideas there are for myself and share all the great practice that happens every day for you.

Today, for instance, I was working in a medium-sized village school on their vision for inclusion and we talked about the importance of listening to children.

Often, children can be remarkably perceptive about exactly what it is that they need to help them get on well in school. Sometimes, the difficulty is not them but us. We don’t ask the right questions, in the right way, to help them express what they already know.

Getting it right, especially where a young person has a language or communication barrier, has a knack to it. Rather than relying purely on the spoken word, we need to employ pictures or symbols; technology, even.

The right moment

Sometimes it’s all about catching them at the right moment. Other times, it’s all about the conversation, the way that one thing leads to another. It can be the subject that leads to questions; it can be trust that leads to answers.

The thing that made us stop this afternoon and, in a moment of silent seriousness, consider the importance of asking children questions and waiting for their answer, was the issue of consent. Some of our young people, including those with SEND – whatever their vulnerabilities and wherever their needs spring from – are rarely heard, despite the person-centred rhetoric of codes of practice and school policies. We don’t ask or we don’t listen to what they are telling us; often, their messages remain untranslated because they are sent in the most unattractive of ways.

It occurred to us that asking questions of everyone in the class – from the brightest button to the youngest poppet – and the expectation of an answer, the drawing it out and respect paid to it by giving it proper consideration, is an exercise in empowerment.

It shows our young people that they have a voice, that what they say matters, that they have choices and that their answers to questions can be “yes” or “no”.

Questioning children is one of the fundamentals of teaching. It not only tightens up their learning but informs us of what they know and where their misconceptions are. But there is a deeper significance to the act of questioning. We tell ourselves that it’s all about the subject learning, the knowledge, but an education is more than that and we know it.


Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, working with schools and teachers on SEND. She is the author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers. She tweets @nancygedge

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