The Link Between Probing Questions and Student Learning

Educator uses probing questions and encourages a culture of discourse in their classroom, resulting in increased overall learning gains.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

The educator recognizes the impact of asking probing questions to help students explain their thinking and applies this method of encouraging discourse in whole group, small group, and individual instructional practices.

Method Components

Empirical evidence supports the theory that student learning increases when thinking is made visible. To build critical thinking, students need to be able to articulate and illustrate how they think about concepts, what strategies or information they use to build understanding, and why they selected a particular strategy or approach.

What Are Probing Questions?

Probing questions are a feature of the Socratic method of using questions and answers to challenge assumptions and expose contradictions, which leads to new knowledge (Cotton). Examples of probing questions can be found in the resources section.

Why Would I Use Probing Questions to Help Develop Students’ Thinking?

“Learning is a consequence of thinking and students’ understanding of content increases when they think through and with the concepts and information they are studying” (Ritchhart & Perkins, 2008).

How Are Visible Thinking and Learning Connected?

“We learn from those around us and our engagement with them” (Ritchhart & Perkins, 2008). By making thinking visible, students are able to internalize principles, construct specific inference rules for solving problems, and become aware of misunderstandings and lack of understanding, all of which result in learning (Franke, Megan, Webb, & Chan, 2007).

Suggested Implementation Strategies for Using Probing Questions

  1. Select a lesson and determine where, when, and how it will be used in your classroom.
  2. Consider how the students might approach the task.
  3. Construct a baseline and model explanation, along with the thinking process to use in assessment of understanding.
  4. Compose probing questions that you will ask to identify the point of misunderstanding and/or stimulate student communication of understanding.
  5. Identify possible responses to determine potential misconceptions/mistakes.
  6. Monitor students as they explain their thinking, noting strategies being used.
  7. Identify students to share and the sequence in which would be most effective, as well as ways to make connections between strategies.
  8. Plan follow up questions to probe further explanations or illicit connections.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Ritchhart, Ron, and David Perkins. “Making Student Thinking Visible.” Educational Leadership 65.5 (2008): 57-61. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.


Source provides examples of probing questions based on student responses and teacher intent.

Examples of probing questions designed to help students think critically about Reading.

Teacher-led reading and math instruction designed with the depth and rigor required by today’s standards. Includes interactive, engaging activities that reinforce foundational knowledge and build conceptual understanding for students. Built to support teachers during whole group, small group and individual instructional practices.

  • Sahin, Alpaslan. “The Effects of Types, Quantity, and Quality of Questioning in Improving Students’ Understanding.” (2007). Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

This dissertation examines the effects of teachers’ types, quality, and quantity of questions on middle school students’ knowledge of algebraic concepts.

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

The following are items you must submit to earn this micro-credential. Evaluation criteria are included. To earn this micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1, 3, and 4 and a “Yes” for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview questions

(300-word limit for each response)

  • Activity Description: Please tell us a little a little bit about the culture of your classroom; i.e., Do you generally incorporate probing questions into your approach, or was this new to you? Next, provide a brief description of the lesson you used to demonstrate this competency and identify the specific probing questions you used during the lesson.

Part 2. Evidence/artifacts

Please submit one video OR audio recording that illustrates your ability to ask probing questions and provides evidence that doing so contributed to developing students’ thinking.

Part 3. Student reflections

(200-word limit for each) Based on the lesson you used to illustrate your ability to incorporate probing questioning into instruction, submit two student reflections that address the following question:

  • How did your teacher’s use of probing questions impact your knowledge and understanding of the concept or problem you were solving?

Part 4. Teacher reflection

(300-word limit total) Provide a reflection of your learning using the following questions:

  • What have you learned about your leadership or work style strengths?
  • Did you modify your lesson during the instruction at all? If so, how?

- ex. Did the number of higher-order questions used increase from your initial plan?

  • How comfortable were you with the level of discourse that resulted from implementing probing questions?
  • What measurable impact did you see as a result of asking probing questions?
  • What will you do differently in your practice next time?

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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