Friday, 26 August 2011

To question or not to question, that IS the question! - Alison Marrs, Professional Advisor

I recently saw my friend’s 18 month old son Marley and he called my water bottle, ‘more’. This confirmed to me how children link what they hear to what they see. Naturally my friend would ask Marley, ‘more?’ when offering him water and he now thinks water is called, ‘more’.

Adults do need to think about how we use questions therefore.
If a child’s not developed an understanding of what an object or concept is, then, just as Marley did, they’ll link a question they hear, to what they see. If every time they hold a banana, and an adult says, ‘What’s that?, they may think a banana’s called a ‘What’s that?’

The use of questions and their impact during interactions between parents and children (often referred to as ‘parent-child communication’ or ‘parent-child interaction’) has been studied widely. Parents naturally ask questions and give commands when there is silence or when their child is not saying anything. Parents naturally try to create a conversation this way.

Unknown to many though, research has shown that frequent parental use of directive and corrective statements (e.g. questions and command giving) has been shown to link with delays in children's language development. Of course we all naturally ask questions of our children, but if we do it too often it can have an effect.

From such research, professional’s advice to parents is often to ‘follow their child’s lead’ and to, ‘Question less and comment more’. This involves:

· Watching what they are doing (silently)
· Waiting for them to communicate (either by them doing something such as pointing/looking at an object or by saying something)
· Responding to this communication (for example, by also pointing then naming an object, looking at what their child looks at and naming it, copying what their child says or adding one or two more words to this.)

This can be particularly useful for young children who are developing language or who have difficulty learning language i.e. children with a delay in their language development or those with a persistent speech, language and communication need (SLCN). It’s often these children who are silent, creating the natural instinct in their parents to want to take the lead with questions and commands.

However often these children don’t understand questions and commands, need extra time to process what they’ve heard and need extra time to respond. If parents and adults question children less and comment more, it can support their language to develop.

So – are adults not meant to ask questions at all?
The research mentioned above indicates that frequent direction and commands to children can have an impact as opposed to occasional direction and commands.

Some questions are asked to test children’s knowledge by wanting a one-word factual answer e.g. ‘What’s that?’, but other questions which are open-ended, can lead to getting longer answers from children.

Research into the use of open-ended questions with school children, that start with phrases such as, ‘I wonder if...?, ‘What could we do....?, Can you find a way to.....?’ has shown these questions to be useful for learning, encouraging children to think, develop creative thinking and problem solving skills.These type of questions allow children to use the knowledge they have to come up with an answer rather than worrying about getting the answer right. Children’s answers can reveal a lot about their knowledge in comparison to when they are being asked the answer to a closed, testing questions such as, ‘What is the capital of France?’

There are different types of questions and as adults we just have to be careful about when and how we use them.

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