Have you ever thought about what it takes to ask students a question in the classroom? It is not as simple as it seems.
Asking a question is a little like being a good comedian, it takes timing. Ask the question, pause, restate the question, then call on someone to answer. The pause is the key piece to asking questions effectively.
Giving a pause after asking a question allows students to think of the answer. Everyone will be processing at different times, at different speeds. If you are fan of the oral communication models, recall that some students may have barriers that mean decoding your statement takes time: some students may not know the material as well, others may have to translate your words out of English, then interpret their answer back into English before they can answer.
Restating the question helps with that pause. It gives everyone a chance to catch up; it also gives students a different interpretation of the question in case they were struggling.
Calling on students also involves some thought. Do you call students out by name? Do you only pick volunteers? That’s a decision that you have to make as an instructor. It can be difficult: someone who doesn’t raise their hand but is asked anyway and truly doesn’t know may be embarrassed and become resentful. Only asking the student who raises their hand may get you the ‘eager beaver’ and leave everyone else out. (I use a combination, sometimes drawing in that student who isn’t always verbal, and other times using the student with their hand up.)
What if the student gets it wrong? I try to help the student achieve the right answer; not give them the answer, but lead them to it. Another tip for this that I’ve heard but not used is to have another student give the answer, then return to the original student and have them repeat or paraphrase to ensure they now understand that. (I’ve always checked back for a confirmation but never asked for a repeat back as I didn’t want to embarrass the student)
Always repeat the answer though, ensure that everyone heard it, and heard the correct response.
But let’s back up: why ask questions? Asking questions serves two purposes, both around feedback. Asking questions provides feedback to the student: do they understand the material correctly? It’s also feedback to the instructor: am I teaching the material correctly? If students are getting questions wrong, it is an opportunity to revisit the material before moving on, correcting any issues.
Asking questions is not as simple as it seems, but they are invaluable part of teaching.