Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Silly Questions

questions I recently received an email from someone saying, “…I am worried how to avoid or minimize stupid questions from students like " why this line is read?” She asked me to share some strategies to avoid this situation.

First of all, I do not discourage students from asking questions. While others may feel the questions are silly (I don’t like to use the word stupid), I know that it takes a lot of courage for my students to ask a question. Sometimes the questions sound silly because the student doesn’t know how to phrase the question to get the point across. It is up to me to help the student make the question clearer so that it can be answered. This involves asking questions of the student to find out specific information that the student doesn’t understand. This inquiry process needs to be done patiently without making the students feel bad for asking for help.

Many times the student may be overwhelmed and can’t remember all the steps that were given. So I suggest the teacher come up with a task analysis and help students go through the steps slowly. I also would put a copy of the steps up for the students to follow. This helps some who are slower and also helps those students who are faster. Having a visual aid plus auditory instructions helps those with different learning styles.

Sometimes students ask questions so that they can feel connected with the teacher. Learning can be scary for some and they want to know that the teacher will be there to support them. By monitoring progress and giving the students encouragement, I will be able to let them know that they are not alone.

It might also help students to pair them up with a partner and when I am asked a question, I can ask them what their partner said. Many times, the student has not asked their partner and this encourages collaboration with others. It also teaches the students to help one another and lowers frustration if I am unavailable for immediate help.

If the questions because repetitive, it is up to me to encourage the student to take some steps independently. I will ask the student to repeat the steps given. Then have them show me what was done at each step. This also helps the student learn problem solving skills. Usually they are able to see what they did wrong on their own which builds confidence for future learning. As they student becomes more confident, the number of questions will get less.

How do you approach this situation? Do you have any other advice that I might have left out? Please share!

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: '3D Character and Question Mark'


Nancy Hniedziejko (Nancy Ehrlich) said...

"Sometimes students ask questions so that they can feel connected with the teacher." This was an amazing quote from your blog! I plan on making it into a sign to help me remember it. I think we teachers forget to allow our students to talk! They must ask questions. We adults need time to process information orally, so why wouldn't our students. Great blog! Nancy

Paul Bogush said...

When my first thought is "What a silly question?" I immediately follow it up with "What do you mean by that?"
One of two things happens...
1-There was actually a serious question in the kids head and they just didn't know how to get it out...getting the chance to re-word reveals that deeper meaning.
2-If it was a silly question, you showed you cared, the kids gets slightly embarrassed and realizes that they should actually ask a more serious question. Sometimes a silly question comes at a time when the kid really has something working up there in their head--but all they can muster is the silly question ;)

loonyhiker said...

@Nancy Teachers I like the idea of using a sign as a reminder. Thanks!

loonyhiker said...

@Paul Bogush Thanks for sharing your thought process you go through. I like the thought of how you open the door to communication with the student this way.

devry university chicago said...

When I was in school, it took courage for me to ask questions. One of my fears when asking questions is I would look silly in front of the class. I wouldn't want my classmates to think that I am dumb. It's also good that students are asking questions, it means that they are curious and interested.

siobhan curious said...

I love your reminder that asking questions takes courage, and like Nancy, I love your observation that sometimes students ask questions to feel connected to the teacher - that never occurred to me, and it's so often true! Working with adolescents means that we sometimes become impatient with their questions, or even defensive ("Is this kid being a smart alec?") I try to always behave as though questions are serious, even when they seem silly or belligerent. I really appreciated this post!