Have you ever stood in front of a class and asked, “Are there any questions?” only to be met with silence and lowered eyes, or only to receive questions about something unrelated, like the word count requirement of a paper or the date of an exam? It’s probably happened to all of us.
Sometimes the way we frame our invitation shapes the questions (if any) that we get in response. When we ask, “Any questions?” and no one responds, it’s often because students feel embarrassed to ask what they want to know. They may each think they are the only one who is lost or confused. They may be afraid to misspeak or make a mistake. They often don’t know how to formulate their questions, or they feel like there isn’t time to figure out how to ask what they want to ask.
If we articulate our invitation slightly differently, asking them to please share the questions they have, we might stand a better chance of getting responses. When we create an expectation that students always have questions, give them time to think, and praise them for asking, we can help to normalize the practice, and even help them take pride in their curiosity.
We can also normalize asking questions by using wrap-up activities, where students must reflect on the class session and write down two things they learned and two questions they still have. They can submit these quick reflections online or in person, and their professor (or TA or LA) can read them all or just a sampling, depending on class size.
Another common reason students choose not to ask questions is that they don’t want to slow down the class. They may assume their peers are keeping up and will be annoyed if they ask us to stop and explain something differently or backtrack to clarify. This is doubly unfortunate because they don’t get the clarification they need to keep learning, and we don’t get the feedback on their progress toward the learning goals.
Getting students to ask their questions is important for us because it helps us identify what is working and what we might need to adjust in our teaching: clarity, examples, pacing, resources, assignment descriptions, or anything else. It can show us what knowledge gaps students may have, so we can address them.
Ken Bain, in What the Best College Teachers Do, explains, “Questions help us construct knowledge. They point to holes in our memory structures and are critical for indexing the information that we attain when we develop an answer for that inquiry.” And better, frequent indexing leads to increased recall, understanding, and flexibility. This means that asking questions is an essential part of learning.
In fact, inquiry drives learning, as you likely know from your own experience in your field. In “Students’ Questions: A Potential Resource for Teaching and Learning Science,” Christine Chin and Jonathan Osborne explain:
Chin reviewed a wide variety of teaching practices that can promote questions-asking. The following are some highlights:
- Providing students with suitable stimuli for them to ask questions;
- Modeling question‐asking;
- Providing question prompts or stems;
- Asking students to pose questions via a journal, weekly report, question board, etc.
- Setting ‘question‐making’ homework;
- Using interactive instructional approaches where students work in collaborative groups to generate questions; and
- Creating a non‐threatening classroom atmosphere where students feel free to ask questions.
If you have tips for getting students to ask good questions, please share them with us! And we would love to hear your questions about teaching, too. Faculty can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and TAs can email us at email@example.com. We look forward to working with you!
Provost’s Showcase of Scholarly Teaching
Friday, April 5th | 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. | SSB 201/203 | Click to apply
We’re delighted to announce that CAT and FSU Libraries will host FSU’s inaugural Provost’s Showcase of Scholarly Teaching this spring. This event is an opportunity for you to share your teaching expertise and innovations with the larger campus community. Even if you’ve never thought about presenting at a pedagogical conference before, you likely have strategies and insights that could be of benefit to colleagues. We invite you to apply to host a roundtable discussion or present a poster. For more information, please visit our website.
If you would like to apply, please fill out our application form. The application due date is February 23, 2024. We look forward to working with you!