Conversational Questions

Conversations in schools are usually problem focussed:

  • Attainment in Year 9 science is not high enough
  • Year 10 attendance data is low
  • Y13 destinations data shows a decreasing trend in applications and acceptance to Russell Group universities
  • Behaviour incidents in Year 8 are higher than they were in the previous term

To get to the root of a problem and understand what it is affecting, we need to ask the right questions. To help us do this effectively, it is interesting to consider the view of the problem and what we are intending the question to discover or affirm.

Four type of questions

ClarifyingImprove understanding of a situation, view of belief  

Why do you think this is the case?
Can you tell me more about X?  

Why people do not ask this type of question
Assumptions and confirmation bias can prevent people from asking these types of questions. Instead, they fit together the missing pieces in a response using their own thoughts.
Adjoining  Explore blind spots, ensuring aspects related to the problem are not being ignored  

What about x?
Could this affect that?
Is this problem the same in x situation too?
How has x affected this problem, if at all?  

Why people do not ask this type of question
Our focus on instant results and instant answers can prevent us from exploring adjoining issues
FunnelingDelve deeper into how a conclusion was reached  

What was your first step in gathering this information?
Why did you miss out “this” step?
What might happen if we looked at the situation like this?    

Why people do not ask this type of question
Assuming the process of reaching a conclusion is robust, rather than being analytical and testing processes to ensure they reach valid conclusions
Elevating  Zooming out to see how what is being discussed affects the bigger picture  

Is this part of a wider problem?
Are there other, larger issues are affecting this problem?  

Why people do not ask this type of question
An assumption that the root cause of a problem is only linked to one area, and therefore not affecting other areas of work

Example: a conversation around assessment data

Y10 have just complete their mocks, and data analysis meetings are taking place.  The subject lead for geography, when analysing the data, concludes that boys are attaining worse than girls.

As part of the conversation the following questions can be asked to better understand what is going on and why it is happening:


  • Why do you think boys are attaining lower than girls?
  • What has lead you to the conclusion you have?


  • This is across the board in all class on this subject?
  • Is this a geography specific issue?
  • Is this the same in all year groups?
  • Are these boys attached to another subgroup that could be underperforming too?


  • How was this data generated?
  • Are their any issues with the assessment that could have limited access for boys?
  • Are their any issues with the assessment that could lead to invalid inferences?


  • What is this telling us about how we need to reform and review our curriculum for geography?
  • How does this data affect teaching and learning, parental engagement and the focus of our work within geography?

Asking questions forms the key in finding solutions to the problems we come across in schools. Ensuring we ask a wide range of questions, clarifying our thinking, checking under all “stones”, ensuring our conclusions are valid and are considering the bigger picture, should form a crucial part of all conversations.

Note: the adjoining and elevating set of questions for the analysis of assessment data could be switched around; this is an important point to consider and informs where your thoughts around curriculum and assessment sit.

Further Reading:

Relearning the Art of Asking Questions by Tom Pohlmann Neethi Mary Thomas


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