Tag Archive: questions

The Big Question Revisited

Would you like to know why most students won’t answer your questions in class and in fact are hesitant to participate in discussions at all?  It’s because for the bulk of their educational lives they have been asked questions that need a specific answer and they have learned to be very hesitant about raising their hands to offer a simple thought.  Even if they are semi-sure that they know the answer, they also know that the possibility exists for error and they will probably be wrong and the teacher will not hesitate to point it out.  When they (or you or me) are publically called out for being wrong we will hardly try again; hence, the resistance to classroom participation.

But students almost always have something to say and it takes the right kind of question to bring it out, and it takes the right attitude from the teacher to bring it out.  The attitude is this: “I know you have something to say and I really, really want to hear it.”  But the teacher can’t just say that; it has to be demonstrated.  You have to show them that attitude. 

The right kind of question is the one that requires a response rather than an answer.  An answer is a very specific type of response that corresponds directly to the question.  Think of a math class (“The square root of 16 is…?”).  There is only one answer to that question.  Think of a science class (“The 15th element on the periodic table is…?”).  Only one answer will do for that question, so we watch students furrow their brows and puzzle over it, looking down and hoping not to make eye contact.  Very few are brave enough to answer and when no one does the teacher continues to assume that questions are not very useful in class and “I should just stick to my lecture notes.”  So much for questions that need an answer.  They rarely bring one and when they do it comes without much thought.

But what about asking a question that begs for a response?  A response is any comeback that keeps the conversation going.  It could be an attempt to directly answer the question, but it could be a follow up question from a student, or simply a thought, or a wonderment.  What if the teacher asked the kinds of questions to which there are no wrong answers?  How about this one: “The Russians launched an earth orbiting vehicle before the Americans, but the Americans were first on the moon.  Why?”  There could be lots of reasons and lots of thoughts about that, but all can participate safely. 

Here’s another one: “Joseph Smith received his first vision in 1820 but the church wasn’t organized until 10 years later.  What was happening in those 10 years that made the wait necessary?”

Often you can start a question with this simple phrase: “In your opinion…”  There is a slight danger with that question because you don’t want to create a huge pool of shared ignorance, so the teacher needs to listen and guide and help reshape the responses, but everyone can eventually share an opinion.

I read of a science teacher who gave each student a barometer and asked them to use it to discover the height, in feet, of a certain tall building.  I suppose there are a lot of useful scientific ways to figure that out but the one that intrigued me was the student who had the correct answer and when asked to explain his method said, “I went to the building superintendant and told him that if he would just tell me how tall the building was that I would give him the barometer.”  The teacher’s original question created enough room that a wide variety of thoughts and responses were acceptable.

So if you want to get students talking in your class – and it works for both adults and kids – stop asking them to recall names and dates and numbers.  That closes the door very quickly. And please stop asking this question “What did we talk about last time?”  I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night.  I just know that it was good and I liked it but I generally can’t recall it on cue anymore than I can recall the content of yesterday’s lesson (or last week’s).  If you need to spend a brief little time reviewing what you did last meeting, just ease them into it by reminding them – “Remember yesterday that we talked about some of the main reasons America entered World War II?  The reason that I thought the strongest was…..  Which was yours?”  As you ease them into it, they will remember and start to talk and then you can begin asking them questions that really generate thought and discussion, questions that need responses not answers.

The Big Question

             The question I am asked most frequently about teaching is this one: “How do I come up with good questions to use in the classroom?”  This is a critical skill for a teacher to have because, “To ask and answer questions is at the heart of all learning and all teaching” (President Henry B. Eyring).  It would seem a simple thing to ask a question in class, and it is if you aren’t too particular about what follows. If, however, you want to stir up thinking and created a lively learning atmosphere in your classroom, you will need to learn how to craft excellent questions.

            When a person tells me about their inability to come up with great questions, my first response is always the same: “You can’t come up with good classroom questions because you don’t ask good questions as you read the material in preparation for the class.  You simply read the material.”  Most people read a text just to read it.  A teacher needs to read it and think about how to use it in class.  I find that the most effective way to do that is to ask questions of the text as I read it.  Here are 3 examples:

1.      I remember the first time I read the Iliadas an adult (this did not happen as I read it in high school because I just sort of faked my way through it).  I was struck with the opening line: “Sing O Goddess, the anger of Achilles…”  Why was he so angry?  How did his anger reach a point where it caused multiple deaths (which the line goes on to say)?  Why is this the very opening line of the story?  I was full of questions from just those seven words and I read awaiting the answers from the text.  Those are questions that could launch a discussion.

2.      This summer I read a book entitled “Empire of the Summer Moon” about the Comanche nation in North America.  For 150-200 years, up to about 1880, they were the undisputed rulers of the great middle section of the continent, from Texas, and New Mexico on the south up through Kansas and Nebraska.  They were fierce warriors, incredible horsemen, and ruled their territory.  Their power kept the Spaniards from moving further north from Mexico and the French from moving west out of the New Orleans area.  Both groups wanted to keep colonizing but were bottled up by the Comanche protecting their lands.  As I discovered that insight in the text, I started asking questions:  how did that help or hinder further migrations by different people?  What caused the demise of their power and did that hasten migration?  How different would America be today if the French had colonized much further west, or the Spaniards farther to the north?   Can you see how questions like that could really enable discussion?

3.      When I read the scriptures I am full of questions.  Recently I was reading in Luke 17 and found this in verse 5: “Lord, increase our faith” and immediately I wondered what is the way to increase faith?  So I read the subsequent verses slowly and found that in 6-10 He uses a story to outline one way and in verses 11-19 He shares a second way to do it.  I would have never seen that if I had not asked a question of the text.

If you struggle to come up with good questions try doing this – have a conversation
with the text as you read through it.  The three examples above all could have just been an ‘ooh and ah’ moment in the reading but I asked questions and was stirred up.  Be full of wonder.  Think deeply.  Probe and push and pull.  The questions that bubble up as you read can be turned into good questions that you can ask your students in class.

      I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to the art of asking questions, both how to do it and how not to do it.

New Lds Seminary Teacher Facebook Group

Downloaded from: http://brosimonsays.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/new-lds-seminary-teacher-facebook-group/ Click here to check out this LDS Seminary Teacher Facebook Group Just click the “join” link to become a member of the group. Filed under: Administer Appropriately, Seminary, Teach Effectively Tagged: Facebook, Group, Ideas, LDS Seminary, Questions, Share, Social Media, Teach, Teachers

Day 4, Studying The Scriptures

Downloaded from: http://brosimonsays.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/day-4-studying-the-scriptures/ This lesson was based on the resources found in the Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, Lesson 2: Studying the Scriptures and Section 2.3 of GOSPEL TEACHING AND LEARNING: A HANDBOOK FOR TEACHERS AND LEADERS IN SEMINARIES AND INSTITUTES OF RELIGION. I encourage you to use the online version of these manuals since they have more content than the […]

1 Thessalonians 1-5, Walk With God: What, How, Why?

Downloaded from: http://brosimonsays.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/1-thessalonians-1-5-walk-with-god-what-how-why/ “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” An age-old challenge for every Christian! We know the right answers, but are we choosing the right? We started our lesson by creating acrostic poems for the word WALK. It was just a regular acrostic to get the concept down and focus on the word WALK. Students shared a few and then created another acrostic for…
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