The Art of Asking Questions

At one time or another, most of us have been disappointed by the caliber of the questions students ask in class, online, or in the office. Many of them are such mundane questions: “Will material from the book be on the exam?” “How long should the paper be?” “Can we use Google to find references?” “Would you repeat what you just said? I didn’t get it all down in my notes.” Rarely do they ask thoughtful questions that probe the content and stir the interest of the teacher and other students.

So, how do we get them to ask better questions? What if we start by asking them the kinds of questions we hope they will ask us? Here are some suggestions that might help us model what good questions are and demonstrate how instrumental they can be in promoting thinking, understanding, and learning.

Prepare questions — Too often we ask questions as they come to us. Allen and Tanner write in an excellent article on questioning, “Although many teachers carefully plan test questions used as final assessments, … much less time is invested in oral questions that are interwoven in our teaching.” (p. 63) How many questions of the kind that generate discussion and lead to other questions come to us as we are teaching? Would more of those thought-provoking questions come to us if we thought about questions as we prepare and contemplate the content for class?

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

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