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Call for Submissions: The Questions We Ask Students

Call for Submissions: The Questions We Ask Students

Teachers make bold claims when they talk to students about questions—“the best answer is the next question,” “the only bad question is the one you don’t ask,” “to ask is better than to answer.” Questions do play a powerful role in learning, but it’s often an unexamined one. In the crush of everyday course preps, questions aren’t usually developed beforehand. As interactions with students unfold, they come to mind on the spot. This common approach motivates us to ask: How thoughtful and purposeful is your use of questions? Do you prepare questions, analyze how well they worked and preserve the good ones? I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t, and for lots of teaching years.

We’d like to dig deeper into the questions teachers ask students—challenging you with some pointed queries that explore the role questions play in your teaching. Could your questions be more powerful, compelling, provocative, or motivating—better at pointing students in the direction of learning? Yes, we know, the questions students ask us are terribly important, but we’re in control of the ones we ask. And there’s one more bold claim made for questions: “Quality answers emerge from quality questions.”

To those of you who’ve answered our previous requests for responses, thank you. We’ve enjoyed assembling your contributions into what we hope are useful resources. (See here, here, and here.) Creating them feels like a community endeavor that gives us the chance to learn from and with each other. The approach we’re taking in soliciting input on questions is a riff that sounds familiar but slightly different. A set of prompts follows. We invite you to answer one or several—in a few words, a sentence, a paragraph, or a short article. Share your views, opinions, insights, and experiences. Be encouraged to illustrate your answers with examples, good ideas, and, of course, more questions.

  • Teachers ask students, “Do you have any questions?” and while some students have questions that they should ask, they answer with radio silence. Are there better ways to get students asking about what they don’t understand?
  • If someone were to observe you on a typical day, how would they describe your use of questions? Better yet, ask a colleague to observe a class session and write a description. After class write your own description and then compare the two. We’d love to hear what you learned.
  • What would your students say about the role of questions in your courses? You could make some predictions (write them down), then ask students what they think and compare the two. If you discuss the differences with students, we’d love to hear what you learned.
  • Let’s say a student wonders aloud why questions are important to learning—whether in general or for the subject of your course. How would you respond?
  • We always talk about “good” questions. What about “bad” ones? What are the features of bad questions—ones that don’t do much for learning or actually obstruct it?
  • Think of a really good question you’ve been asked. What was the context? And what made it so good?
  • Should we ask students questions we don’t know the answers to?
  • If a new teacher asked for advice on effective questioning practices, what would you recommend? Are there any good resources on questioning you could direct them to?
  • What questioning mistakes do new teachers frequently make? Did you make any of those mistakes? What have you learned about questioning that you wish you’d known when you first started teaching?
  • If teachers could improve one thing about their use questions, what would you have them work to do better?
  • What’s the one question you have about questions that you’d most like to have answered?

Please send your responses to Maryellen Weimer (grg@psu.edu) by June 15, 2021.