Thursday, March 15, 2012

3 Ways To Get Students To Ask More Questions


Back in April of 2011, I wrote a piece titled "Smart" People Ask Good Questions.  I ended that post with the following:
All questions have their place in schools.  From the ordinary and expected to the truly enlightening and exploratory, questions are essential to the educational process.  As educational leaders, we should pay attention to the questions we hear and ask.  The amount of time spent answering and asking “smarter” questions may provide an interesting insight into how engaged your teachers, parents, and students are in the learning process.  Paying attention to the frequency and quality of questions asked in schools can help educational leaders be more effective in supporting the needs of the school community.
 I was reminded of that post today when I read an article on Big Think by Kirsten Winkler titled, Search Engines replace Teachers and Parents.  The article includes some interesting information, including:

survey for Birmingham Science City amongst 500 15 year-olds across the UK came up with some pretty telling numbers about how technology changes society at its roots. 
When asked whom they ask when a particular question occurs 54% of students answered Google or other search engines. Only 26% would ask their parents and only 3% their teacher. One in ten surveyed students even answered they would never go to their teacher with a question.
The article is short, but it suggests that in order to get kids to ask parents and teachers more questions, parents and teachers need to "get ahead of the curve and defend their place in society as the ones who simply know more or better."

While I agree that students are more likely to ask questions when they know the teacher has the answer they need is important, I would like to think there are a number of other ways to increase the frequency of student questions than projecting a persona of the "more experienced, smarter person in the room" approach.  Therefore, here are three ways to help get students to ask more questions.

1.  Work with individuals - Some students want to ask, but are hesitant to do so in front of the group.  Therefore, moving around the room and engaging the students one on one may help.  If you get a particularly good question from working one on one with a student, ask the student's permission to share it with the class.   

2.  Coach them on asking the right question - Students often stop asking questions because at some point, they may have asked the wrong one and didn't get the response they were hoping for.  Therefore, coaching students to identify their goal and which question best suits that goal is important.  If the student is having trouble understanding a new and/or difficult concept, they should ask more "What" questions.  If a student has mastered a concept and is looking to go deeper into the topic, "Why" questions are usually best. 

3.  Reward good questions - This idea helps those who may need to see some extrinsic value to asking questions.  You can keep a good question "scorecard" and give small prizes for those who contribute the most.  Another way I have used rewards is to tell students that I will pick a number of their questions to use on the test.  That way they get to be a part of creating their own evaluations.

A final note:  Asking good questions is a sign that students are engaged in the learning process and motivated to do well.  If you find that your class is light on student questions, it may be a sign that you need to try a new approach designed to increase engagement.  Once you establish an atmosphere of engagement, the dialogue between teacher and students will naturally produce more questions.   
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