The conversation started with concerns over the quantity and quality of questions students ask—those earnest questions about what’s going to be on the exam and gently demanding queries about what the teacher “wants” in almost any kind of written assignment. Those questions are important to students, but they certainly are not the questions of curious learners nor are they the type of questions that motivate learning and intellectual development.
It didn’t take us long to decide that the questions teachers ask students are part (we think a large part) of the problem. Teachers don’t usually prepare questions—we ask whatever comes to mind when it comes to mind. We ask questions we know the answers to and we almost always follow the answers students give with our own bigger and better explanations. In some cases, the way we use questions diminishes their value in students’ eyes. We ask questions to keep students paying attention and direct queries to those who aren’t. We ask questions to see who has and hasn’t done the reading. We ask questions to see how well they understand. Those questions do benefit students because if they don’t understand a concept, we give a fuller, possibly clearer, explanation. But even that doesn’t benefit them as much as it would if we helped them make their own answers better.Even though I try to be very intentional about the practice of questioning in the classroom, I still had a flash of recognition when reading Weimer's remarks. Despite my best efforts, my use of questions in the classroom too often becomes teacher-centered, an impromptu or on-the-spot technique by which students show me what they know. This "diminishes" questions' value in students' eyes by (1) reinforcing the assumption that the instructor is the source of all the (good) questions in the classroom, and (2) marginalizing student questions as a source of learning.
With that, here are three questions about asking questions I'd be interested to hear thoughts about. I don't have answers to these questions that satisfy me, so they are (for me) genuine questions.
- How can we make students more comfortable asking questions?
- How can we encourage students to ask questions likely to stimulate their learning?
- How we can we use the questions ask to diagnose student learning?