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Transcript of Probing Questions
Clarifying Questions are simple questions of fact. They clarify the dilemma and provide the nuts and bolts so that the participants can ask good probing questions and provide useful feedback later in the protocol. Clarifying questions are for the participants, and should not go beyond the boundaries of the presenter’s dilemma. They have brief, factual answers, and don’t provide any new “food for thought” for the presenter. The litmus test for a clarifying question is: Does the presenter have to think before s/he answers? If so, it’s almost certainly a probing question.
Some examples of clarifying questions:
How much time does the project take?
How were the students grouped?
What resources did the students have available for this project?
Change these into probing questions
Did you do your homework from our last session?
How are your classes?
Have you missed class this week?
Are you ready for your exam?
Do you like math?
How many finals do you have?
Probing Questions are intended to help the presenter think more deeply about the issue at hand. If a probing question doesn’t have that effect, it is either a clarifying question or a recommendation with an upward inflection at the end. If you find yourself saying “Don’t you think you should …?” you’ve gone beyond probing questions. The presenter often doesn’t have a ready answer to a genuine probing question. Since probing questions are the hardest to create productively, we offer the following suggestions:
Check to see if you have a “right” answer in mind. If so, delete the judgment from the question, or don’t ask it.
Refer to the presenter’s original question/focus point. What did s/he ask for your help with? Check your probing questions for relevance.
Check to see if you are asserting your own agenda. If so, return to the presenter’s agenda.
Sometimes a simple “why…?” asked as an advocate for the presenter’s success can be very effective, as can several why questions asked in a row.
Try using verbs: What do you fear? Want? Get? Assume? Expect?
Think about the concentric circles of comfort, risk and danger. Use these as a barometer. Don’t avoid risk, but don’t push the presenter into the “danger zone.”
How can we translate this to a tutoring format?
Clarifying and Probing questions section comes from Looking at Student Work at lasw.org