Last Updated on June 24, 2019
Today, we’re celebrating International Ask a Question Day at 100mentors by highlighting 6 ways questioning in the classroom can help make lessons more meaningful for you and your students.
Get started by asking questions
Asking questions is a part of every teacher’s day. More often than not, they’re transactional or routine questions like, “Did the homework get done?” or “Did you understand this lesson?” You might get some responses, flat and lacking any enthusiasm. But, what about when you prompt your students to be the ones doing the asking? Do you hear … silence?
As a teacher, how are you sharing with your students the importance of really asking questions: the ones that have a meaningful impact on their learning process? Teaching students to use questions effectively and thoughtfully is empowering for their own learning, and it helps you as a teacher make sense of their understanding. Here’s why they’re so important for your classroom.
What do bread making and questions have in common?
Student questions make classroom learning outcomes more meaningful.
“Questioning is to thinking as yeast is to bread making. Unleavened bread is flat, hard and unyielding. Unleavened thinking is uninspired. Questioning acts as leaven to transform matter into meaning.”
– Jamie McKenzie
Questioning, like yeast in bread making, helps students activate their thought process. How can you help your students understand the importance of questions in your classroom, and see their impact on their learning experience?
Here are 6 of our tips:
Setting the tone for questions starts … with you!
When you ask questions, you are modeling to your students how to probe, to assess, to reflect (Murdoch, 2011). One of our education inspirations, Education Consultant Kath Murdoch, highlights this and more in her work on “thinking and questioning through inquiry.” If you’re not giving yourself time to think, consider, and reconsider, your students won’t give that time to themselves, either. Model good question-asking behavior by not interjecting when your students are asking questions, taking a few breaths to consider what you’re about to ask, and remembering that “there are no stupid questions.”
At a very basic level, when your students ask questions, they are also representing what they’ve already learned, and what they need to learn.
This keeps both of you on the same page. Using questions to assess the limits of knowledge is an important form of metacognition for developing minds.
Questioning uses the language of thinking, which helps students process and control how they receive information (Murdoch, 2011).
Challenge your students to use phrases like “I wonder.” Rather than passively receiving facts, the language of questioning means your students are taking ownership of their inquiries. This puts both the responsibility and the opportunity to be active in the learning process in the hands of students. By owning their questions, students will see the importance of their individual learning journeys.
Questions help students become comfortable with uncertainty and empower them to confront doubt.
Speaking up in class can be difficult for shy students, or those who don’t understand a topic. Learning to ask questions helps students rephrase or re-imagine what they don’t know, or don’t know they don’t know, into an opportunity – not a roadblock. Supporting a culture of curiosity in your classroom makes wondering feel normal, important, and usable.
Questioning is “insight in itself.”
Half the battle has already been fought in seeking out the answer. And sometimes, there might not be an answer, or students might not need one. Questions for questioning’s sake is a powerful way to explore their world.
When students learn to set the right questions early on, it follows them through school, and beyond.
While the “right” question to ask in 3rd grade is different from the one they’ll ask in the 9th grade, the premise is the same: they promote understanding not just by looking up from a textbook and repeating what’s written, but by deploying evaluation, judgment, conceptual thinking, and intellectual creativity. It opens up a new world! One day, your students might need the skill of asking a question to write a scientific paper, or explore a business concept. Once students learn how to start asking questions, it opens the door to seeking out knowledge for the world at large.
Wrapping it all up
Give your students opportunities to share their thinking, and how it changes, by guiding them through questions. Empowering your students to understand the value of questions and their importance in education, allows them to construct and reconstruct their own understanding indefinitely.
Jamie McKenzie, Learning to Question to Wonder to Learn, FNO Press: 2005