Teaching is a demanding and rewarding profession, but it can also be frustrating when certain strategies that are commonly used are found to be unproductive. One such strategy is Whole Group Questioning. It is a teaching technique that is widely used, but it is a huge waste of time and has been found to be very unproductive, especially in the Maths class, but generally across other subjects too.

In Indian classrooms where typical teacher:student ratios can run anywhere for 1:30 to 1:50, even in good private schools, Whole Group Questioning takes its worst form.

In Whole Group Questioning, the teacher asks a question to the whole class and then waits for a student to answer. When one student cannot answer the question, the teacher moves on to another student, hoping to find the correct answer. This process continues until the teacher finally gets the answer he or she is looking for.

There are one of three ways plays out:

1. The teacher rushes through questions and only picks the "smart" students to answer them, leaving others feeling neglected and ignored. Having got that correct answer, usually in the first go, the teacher takes it as a cue to move forward to the next question or the next topic.

2. The teacher asks the strugglers to solve the problem, in the hope that they will learn something out of the process. This scenario is even worse. The struggling student is publicly humiliated as they try to solve a problem in front of everyone, often without success. And the teacher continues to move from one struggler to another.

3. The teacher leaves the fate of the class to chance and asks a random student to solve the problem. Depending on who gets picked, the class gets a correct answer, a partially correct answer (which means it is pretty much incorrect) or an entirely wrong answer.

We can attribute the first approach to sheer laziness on part of the teacher. Or impatience – to move forward and quickly complete the syllabus.

The other two approaches, while coming with the right intent, are highly time consuming (which the teacher soon realizes and is forced to move to the first approach). The teacher spends most of the time trying to get the answer from the students and correcting their mistakes. This process is slow and inefficient, and it often takes several minutes to complete a single question.

Also, during the process, imagine the number of silly remarks, impatient groans and fidgeting you would hear and see in the classroom!

Maths learning requires a lot of practice. How much practice did the whole class get during the number of minutes it took to extract the correct answer to that one problem? Pretty much none!

You can see, how each approach is flawed. But more than that, also consider the impact whole group questioning has on the students:

Cognitive Burden of Bad Information

When multiple students are giving wrong answers, it becomes difficult for the learners to pick the right answer. We are adding to the cognitive load on every student, making it their responsibility to differentiate the wrong and the silly from the right answer. This is not beneficial and only confuses the students. More importantly, there is no personal feedback to their own way of solving the problem – they are only seeing someone else receiving feedback.

It is Highly Inefficient

The teacher spends most of the time trying to get the answer from the students and correcting their mistakes. This process is slow and inefficient, and it often takes several minutes to complete a single question. During this time, the other students in the class may become bored or distracted. This method of teaching may benefit the one student who is solving the problem, while the rest of the class is wasting their time.

Can Break Students’ Confidence

When students are forced to answer questions in front of their peers and they don’t get it right, it can demoralize the child and become a factor in creating anxiety around the subject or even the teacher. This, in turn, can lead to poor academic performance and negative attitudes towards learning.

Doesn't Help the Student Develop any Skills

When teachers try to feed the answers to the students, they are not helping them develop any skills. Instead, it would be better to give the students practice problems and immediate feedback (not solutions), so they can see their mistakes and learn from them. This will help them develop critical thinking skills and analytical abilities, which are essential for academic success.

To address these issues, teachers should consider alternative teaching strategies that are more effective and help students learn better. Here are some strategies that can help get more out of the classroom and benefit both the teachers, move the class forward and the students, ctually achieve learning outcomes:

1. Create smaller learning groups (or as some people call it “stream” the class)based on abilities: The first strategy that teachers can consider is to create smaller learning groups based on abilities. By grouping students based on their learning needs and abilities, teachers can find it easier to teach and provide more hands-on guidance. The groups can be created based on skills or deficient knowledge, even from earlier classes. The key to successful grouping is to collect data through formative assessments, that help identify the learning deficiencies and needs.

For example, if you are teaching rational numbers, create groups based on their ability to do basic operations with fractions, the ability to convert fractions to decimals, or the ability to do operations with mixed numbers.

2. Extend these groups into even smaller self-learning teams (4-5 students at most):The second strategy is to extend these groups into even smaller self-learning teams. Assign one or two students from a more proficient group to work with and guide the group as they practice problems. The focus should be on practice and feedback should be immediate so that the team can learn from their mistakes and continue practicing with feedback.

3. Create differentiated practice, even as homework:The third strategy is to create differentiated practice, even as homework. Each student gets a different set of questions to work on. These questions should meet the learning and achievement needs of the student. By adopting these new techniques, students can learn at their own pace, receive personalized feedback, and build confidence. (see my earlier post on homework)

The Shameless Marketing Plug:

Now, I cannot end it without talking about how Countingwell can help you with all (or at least some) of this, right? So here goes:

1. The Countingwell Maths Homework platform is one of the easiest ways to conduct a formative assessment without using the word “assessment” anywhere! When you say, “assessment”, it tends to intimidate the student. The fear of judgement creeps in, defeating the purpose of a formative assessment. The Countingwell homework platform helps overcome that.

2. Deep insights for Grouping and Streaming the class: The platform shares extremely detailed insights with teachers on the achievement levels, skill gaps and learning deficits of the students, all the way to previous grade levels. This helps the teacher create the right groups and focus remedial learning.

3. Differentiated Practice with Immediate Feedback: Want to assign differentiated practice homework? Try “Personalized Homework” on Countingwell. Each child receives not just differentiated questions, but also immediate feedback, which is the most valuable aspect of any Maths practice.

We are nearing the end of Academic Year 2022-23. As you plan for the next year, it is time to say goodbye to the traditional teaching techniques that leave students feeling frustrated and unmotivated, and embrace these new strategies that will make learning enjoyable and meaningful.

Feel free to share this post with your Maths HoDs and teachers, and see what new ideas they come up with!

Contact me to learn more about how Countingwell can become a part of your journey towards making the classroom a more effective learning arena for your Maths students.

Wish you a Happy Classroom!

I look forward to hearing stories of innovations and ideas you implemented. You may have read about it in my blogs or tried something of your own. Either way, please do write to me and I will be happy to share them (and credit you) with the world through my blogs.

Contact Me

Nirmal Shah


Nirmal is the Co-Founder of Countingwell. He is on a mission to make Maths learning easy, anxiety-free, and participative for schoolchildren. He is responsible for developing and delivering engaging and effective Math lessons and courses that help students develop confidence and problem-solving skills. He has also designed career and life-oriented courses for schoolchildren that show the relevance and importance of Mathematics in various domains and situations, particularly in the domain in financial literacy and money management.

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nirmalshah