In many traditional classrooms, students simply aren’t encouraged to ask questions in class. They may spend the entire class period listening to the teacher lecture without ever really engaging–or, if they’re confused, they may not even know where to begin with the questions they have to ask. Much of the question-asking process depends, not on the students themselves, but on their teachers–and knowing how, as a teacher, to facilitate great question-asking can help create a more effective classroom.
The First Tool: The Teacher’s Attitude
In every classroom, the teacher is the one who sets the stage for the entire classroom. A teacher who is excited to be there and eager to interact with her students will be much more likely to create a positive learning response in students than a teacher who is clearly bored and disinterested in both the topic at hand and the students in the classroom.
This is even truer when it comes to encouraging students to ask questions! A teacher who is patient, who accepts questions with genuine interest, and who focuses on being sure that students genuinely understand the material before moving on will encourage questions from students in the future. A teacher who is abrupt, huffy, and simply directs the student to the book for the answer, on the other hand, likely won’t receive many questions in the future.
Determining Student Understanding: Cues Matter
Many teachers assume that if their students aren’t asking questions, they must understand the material. Unfortunately, all too many students have been conditioned not to ask questions by teachers who are indifferent at best about their questions (and who, at worst, only want to deliver instruction, with no regard to whether or not students are actually learning). In the classroom, there are several cues teachers can look for to determine whether or not students truly understand the material.
Are students engaged with the content? If you’re having a classroom discussion, are students participating? Often, students who don’t have a good grasp of the material will disengage from the discussion or appear disinterested.
How well are students asking questions or engaging in discussions together? Proctoring lesson discussions are essential for teachers who want to check student learning. By paying attention to what your students are discussing and how they’re discussing it, you’ll get a much better idea of how well they’ve absorbed the material.
What does the work look like? You shouldn’t have to give a quiz to check for student understanding. Instead, check over the work students have done on the lesson for the day. Do they appear to understand, or are they missing vital concepts?
Have you asked your students? Sometimes, all it takes is a little prompting to determine whether or not students have a good grasp of the material. A quick check-in will allow students to self-evaluate and determine their grasp of the material.
Establishing a Q&A Culture
Without student questions, many teachers don’t really have any idea whether or not their lesson was absorbed. In order to create this vital shift in classroom structure, it may be necessary to establish a new direction for the classroom–one that will ultimately benefit both teacher and student.
Get comfortable with silence. If it’s silent in the classroom, even in the middle of a classroom discussion, don’t feel as though you need to be the one to fill it. Instead, get comfortable with silence, and wait for students to speak. By giving them time to formulate their thoughts, you put them in a better position to ask those vital questions.
Ask more questions. Listen to student answers–really listen. They may ask questions of their own, or they may go off on a tangent. That’s okay! Listen to everything they have to say before you answer.
Never mock a question. Every teacher knows that there are some questions that really do come across as “stupid”–but they weren’t stupid to the student who asked them. Never mock or belittle a child for asking a question. Instead, provide clear, solid answers that will genuinely help students with their questions, even if they’re difficult.
Give students time and space. Some students need more time to work with new material than others. Give them a chance to try out an assignment so that they can learn what they do and don’t know about the material before coming to you.
Create an environment of respect. If you’re working with several students at the same time, make sure they are respectful of each other and offer one another their attention when they’re asking questions.
Creating an atmosphere where questions are encouraged takes time. At The Tenney School, we offer students and teachers the benefits of a question-rich environment that makes it easier for teachers to check for student understanding. Want to learn more? Contact us today.