Until a few days ago when I read an article titled, “Asking Questions to Improve Learning,” I hadn’t spent too much time dwelling on the implications of asking questions in class. When something is unclear and I am struggling to piece together material, it has always been instinctual for me to raise my hand and clarify the topic I was struggling to understand. Looking back, this has widened my understanding of topics and challenged me to see things in a new light, encouraging me to take accountability for my learning.
Although I have always had teachers say, “There are no ‘bad’ questions” and “If you have a question, chances are half of the class has the same question,” there are still many students who haven’t had these positive experience and are discouraged to speak up when something is confusing. Discouraged that they may not look smart in front of their peers and discouraged that the teacher might question their intelligence.
This active learning extends beyond the classroom and questioning strategies can be later used to assess learning, develop thinking skills, and prepare for assessments. On the contrary, asking questions to a class full of students and encouraging them to ask questions in return is a way to grow a student’s ability and increase their understanding complexity based on Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Model (1956). Where a student may be able to effortlessly recall basic knowledge, their understanding can escalate to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (See model below). Through simply asking these questions, educators can encourage “higher-level” thinking and in turn, challenge their students to see material in a new light.
When looking more into the benefits of asking questions, I came across the article, “For Students, Why Asking Questions is More Important than the Answer,” by Katrina Schwartz. Interestingly, by encouraging students to ask questions, the teacher is able to take a step back from instructing and act as a facilitator in the learning process. This is engaging and empowering for students who are able to take an initiative towards their own learning. In order to ask a question, students are forced to identify where they may be struggling with material and consequently increase their understanding of the material as they move towards the higher-level thinking that Bloom outlines.
Well, how can we engage our students and encourage them to ask questions?
Questions are important not only when a student is confused, but also as a way of assessing knowledge and understanding. First and foremost, it is important that students feel comfortable and welcomed to ask questions (either one-on-one or in front of their classmates). If you fear that students will not feel comfortable asking questions, recommend an anonymous system of submitting questions via a survey or designated classroom box. That way, the confusing material is being addressed and no single student feels self-conscious for asking a question. Class activities can incorporate question writing and answering as a way of testing the understanding of class material. Asking and answering questions assist in the learning process by engaging learnings, challenging their knowledge base, and allowing for the synthesis of newly-learned information. Where in my early education I was under the impression that only the students who weren’t smart would ask questions, I have since realized that it is these questions that have facilitated my higher-level thinking and have challenged the ideas that I otherwise would have merely assumed to be true. This has fueled my desire to learn and refusal to become complacent with the knowledge that I am taught. It is these inquires that are essential and lead to both motivated and stimulated students!