When the Answer is a Question…


Who questions much,

shall learn much,

and retain much.

Francis Bacon

After reading several blogs this summer, I realized I gave my students too many answers.  I often times would answer them directly – there was little thinking on their part.  So, one of my professional growth goals as I began this school year was to not give so many answers.  I wanted to give students more opportunities to think on their own.  I have realized in the past few weeks – maybe because my students are making “fun” of me – but also, because I see the tilt of their heads when I answer their questions with a question…

Shortly after fall break, one student shook his head and slapped his hands on the desk and asked, “Why do you do that?”  “Do what?” I looked at him puzzled…”That!  You only answer our questions with a question!”  My reply, “So…why do I do that?”  There were giggles and smiles as a conversation arose – “basically to make us think,” another student chimed in.  I allowed a few of them to vent their frustrations – but this has not deterred me in the least.  Multiple times since, he has stated, “There you go again.” And I smile.

I find it humorous.  Apparently my “teaching strategy” has been the topic of conversation outside of class.

 My goal is simply that they’ll be able to answer it on their own. How often do we ask a question, noone responds, so we assume noone knows the answer, so we give them the answer.  They never even turn on their brain – they simply wait for us to give them the answer.  Been there.  Done that.  Wait time makes us nervous, we must keep the lesson moving – keep the flow of the class going…so we give them the answer.  No thinking has taken place – on their part or mine.

What about the student who simply doesn’t want to participate, so they reply “I don’t know” and the teacher moves on to someone else.  Stop!  Keep asking them!  Change the question, lead them a little – but NEVER let them get by with “I don’t know.”  What about asking them to tell you what they do know.  Good starting point.  Find out what they do know and work from there.  Hmm.  If they are hard to nudge – ask them to read the directions or re-read the problem, but NEVER move on and let them get by with nothing!

I remember once – many, many years ago – at a training, the presenter shared his strategy for the “I don’t know” student:  Ask them, “Well, if you did know, what would you say?”  Again, you may not get a response pertaining to the original question – but for a moment, their brain thought about what you just said to them.  The goal accomplished – getting them to think.

When giving written feedback, I try to pose reflective questions – to hopefully help them develop those analytical skills.  When I answer with a question with a question – it gives them and their classmates a chance to think. 

Jokingly I commented how I felt they didn’t appreciate my teaching strategies – a student commented, “I actually find it refreshing.”  And I’ll take that as a complement anyday.

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