Probing for Students’ Understanding in Chemistry: Using Multiple Approaches (Part Two: Questioning & Interviews)

1. Questioning

Questioning approach is basic strategy to investigate students’ understanding which is widely used in the classroom practices. According to Oakes (1996) as cited in Carr (1998),” questioning can be used to extend pupils, maintain the pace of the lesson involve all pupils in the work and provide encouragement”. Questioning approach could stimulate the discussion in the classroom and clarify the students’ conceptions, attract students’ attention, and pose problems for solutions (Marsh, 2000). According to Selley (2000), questioning approach not only simply enhances the acceptable conceptions in students’ mind, but for encouraging students to really knows the reasons of concepts. However, even though it is acknowledgeable as useful approach to gain depth information of students’ understanding, but it need extensive skills such as not to judge students’ thinking by telling them they are wrong (Tytler, 2002b), waiting for the response, and respect of students’ thinking. Therefore, teachers need to design carefully their questioning techniques in classrooms so that students will express their understanding.

Furthermore, there are different types of questions that teachers can use in science classrooms (Carr, 1998) and each type is briefly described in table 1.

Table 1. Different Types of Questions

Type of questions




Stimulate the discussion through asking students’ opinions

“What do you think might be happened in this reaction?


Guide students into specific information

“Could you give an example to show…?”


clarify important points in the discussion

“Are you sure of that…”


check for student understanding

“How many mols are there in 80 gr of NaOH?


encouraging students’ investigatory skills

“If the KMnO4 solution is added to the oxalic acid, what do you think will be happened?

According to Carr (1998), questions which prompting students’ involvement, questions, and answers could engage students within meaningful learning experience. This type of questions also could help students to reflect on their existing understanding. However, the research study shows that, teacher mostly used closed questions and less reinforcement for students (Carr, 1998) which is easier than other types of questions. As a result, it is important for teachers to be aware of the advantages of others types of questions, so this approach could optimally promotes students’ understanding.

2. Interview about Events and Instances

Interview is one approach which could help teachers to monitor the learning process in the learners’ mind and students’ understanding about concepts. According to Treagust (1988), students’ interview is usual approach to obtain information about students’ alternative conceptions. Teacher could find out the students’ thinking, clarify student responses and allow the depth probing by asking questions and interview (Bell, Osborne, & Tasker, 1985; Anderson, 2004). In addition, this strategy also could identify the students’ misconceptions. One example of using interview in the classroom is instances and events interview. The interview of the instances and events is “a conversation that an expert has with one student, focused by initial questions about situations represented in as series of line diagrams [which can be used to] probe children constructions of meanings of concepts” (White & Gunstone, 1992, p.1). According to Carr (1996), interview about instances uses the cards which consist of the pictures and small words which are familiar with the students’ world, such as the picture of people’s swimming to investigate students’ understanding on the concept of floating and sinking. According to Tytler (2002), students have difficulties to apply scientific concept within daily life or out of school context. Moreover, interview about events carry out the activities which can probe students’ understanding. For example, a vitamin C tablet is dissolved in water to investigate students’ understanding on the state of matter. This approach could be applied in teaching and learning chemistry which is shown by figure 1.


Figure 1. The Cards and Activities for Interview about Instances and Events Approaches in Chemical Reactions

However, interview could lead to problems when students feel pressure to give the right answer. Therefore, there are several procedures need to be concerned for using this approach which is shown by the table 2.bellow (Carr, 1996):

Table 2. Several Procedures for Interviews



Getting Started

· Start with the neutral topic

· Explain about the reasons to the interview

· Give the positive encouragement (to get the students’ thinking not a test)

Nondirection of responses

· Positive respond for unexpected students’ answer

· Respond by repeating students’ answer to clarify

· Consider the semi-structured interview


· Don’t judge students’ answer

· Value the responses (verbal and non-verbal)

Patience in Awaiting a Response

· Take time (silence) in order to get the valuable information from students

Cross-Referencing During the interview

· Prepared response to clarify students’ ideas

Recording and Interpreting the Information

· Use the tape recorder

· Listen carefully to get the main ideas of students’ thinking

· Consider the subjectivity on interpret the data

Therefore, in the classroom, teacher should have the skills to conduct the interview with their students in order to get the real information of their student’s knowledge. In addition, it is important to establish clearly what students think and listen carefully to their responses (Bell, Osborne, & Tasker, 1985). However, although the interview has the advantage to clarify students’ understanding and depth probing (Anderson, 2004), but it is unlikely to applied by the teacher in the classroom as it is time-consuming and require substantial skills (Treagust, 1988; Othman, 2006). As a result, teachers need to be creative to create the appropriate strategies to apply interview in the classroom.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by maingi charles on July 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    true information,have applied it and is really working


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