What Questions Do We Ask? How Do We Ask?
The Right Way to ask Questions in the Classroom, Ben Johnson asks, "What does a teacher asking questions of a class expect the class to learn from the questioning process?" Some teachers might say that to ask a question is to ask for understanding from the students; this benefits the teacher more than the student. When we ask a question to the class, what we are really asking is, "If you have any questions, ask now." From experience, we know that this is not an accurate way to gauge a child's understanding due to their fears of looking stupid in front of peers. Johnson suggests that when a question is asked, it tends to be the "smart students" that raise their hands to answer the question regardless of whether they will be right or wrong. The other students in the class tend to stop paying attention at this point thus defeating the purpose of the discussion in the first place. All students need to be engaged in the answering process; this is the only way learning can be effective.
How can teachers ask a question the correct way? First, we should ask a rhetorical or open-ended question instead of a close-ended question. Next, we allow a few seconds to pass so that each student has enough time to contemplate what the answer to the question might be. Last, we call on a student at random to have them deliver the answer. Students tend to think that their response quota for the day is fulfilled once they have answered one question. However, when names are called at random, their attention will have to remain on the current topic so that they will be able to answer additional questions in case they are called again.
In the video Asking Better Questions in the Classroom, Joanne Chelsey suggests that teachers should stop asking questions that can be answered with a single yes or no response. Instead, we should be asking questions that require deep and, sometimes, abstract thought. Students of today need to be challenged to think about more than just the what's and the where's; they need to think of the why's and the how's. For instance, a teacher could ask the question, "Do plants need sunlight to grow?" In the classroom, this would encourage very little imaginative thinking due to the answer being a simple, "Yes." Instead ask, "Why do plants need sunlight to grow?" You are engaging the students by causing them to think of all of the possible explanations for why a plant needs sunlight to grow. As a matter of fact, you could go one step further and have the students find the answers for themselves via project-based research. The students could look into why plants need sunlight and gather more information than you alone would have been able to provide. In the end, the teacher will have accomplished exactly what he/she set out to do which is to give the students a more clear understanding of the question introduced.
For Students, Why the Question is More Important Than the Answer, Katrina Schwartz quotes Dan Ruthstein when he said on the talk show Forum, "We’ve been underestimating how well our kids can think.” By giving way too many lectures and asking close-ended questions, we have been enabling our students to think by themselves and for themselves. How can we reverse this to better teach our students? Schwartz suggests that in an answer driven classroom, the attention is mainly focused on the teacher. However, a question driven classroom keeps the focus right where it should be, on the students. Students are encouraged to answer questions after careful thought and consideration. They, too, are emboldened to ask new questions that may surface during their search for knowledge. Schwartz suggests that we not answer the student's questions outright when they ask them. Instead, we should follow up with a question that may lead them in the right direction. In doing so, the students are learning that they are capable of finding information for themselves which will spread into other areas of learning as well.