Question and answer time in a class is beneficial for both students and instructors. For students, it provides clarification of any issues, provides confirmation of learning and understanding, and allows for repetition to reinforce teaching points. For an instructor, questions serve as feedback to ensure that material is being received and understood, an opportunity to see if the lesson went well. Taking and posing questions takes a little bit of thought and practice though.
In taking questions from the class, everyone will have their own preference about timing. Do you want to have questions at any time? Or only when you ask? Make it clear what your preference is to the class. If you are going to take them at designated times, have that built into your lesson plan, even on the slide deck as a visual que. When the time comes, ask for questions, and PAUSE. Some students may need a moment to process where they are at, to think if there is anything that needs clarification. Give time to think; I take a moment to have a sip of tea.
When someone asks a question, repeat it. Make it loud enough for everyone to hear, and confirm that you heard the question correctly. Ensuring that the whole room heard the question helps to keep the room engaged and brings into the conversation anyone else that may be struggling as well.
In answering the question, you may want to consider throwing it open to the whole class to respond. This again ties into feedback and confirmation, you get that opportunity to confirm the message is being understood and a student gets to confirm their understanding. For questions that are outside the scope of the course, this can be a way to bring in prior learning by others, helping to keep them engaged and validating their previous experiences. When getting answers from students, be sure to reinforce the correct response after and provide confirmation of the point made.
In answering a question, be sure to look around the whole room. Eye contact is important, and you want the entire class to stay engaged. I always go back to the person who asked the question at the end, confirming that I answered their question.
Part of taking questions from the class is about knowing what not to answer. If a topic is clearly outside the scope of the course, and time is pressing, it is okay to tell the student that you will address it at a break. Similarly, if you don’t know the answer, it is better to table it, find the answer and come back to it later than to try and answer and get it wrong.
In posing questions to the class, be sure to give time for people to think about their answer, Generally, I ask the question, pause, and then repeat the question again before calling on a student to answer. As with a question from a student, repeat the answer so everyone can hear it. Then confirm if the answer is correct.
More difficult to handle is when a student gives a wrong answer. We don’t want to discourage students from speaking up, so I try hard to always find something to praise the student for in their response, then say that ‘it’s not quite there’ or ‘there’s more to the answer’. It’s important to ensure students know the answer is incorrect, but doing so in a way that doesn’t discourage the student from answering other questions in the future.
From time to time it may be necessary to put a student on ‘hold’. Sometimes you have a student that is always keen to answer, and is quick on the up take. To give other students an opportunity it may be necessary to put the ‘quick answerer’ on hold. I’ve had success by signaling them with my eyes or my hand that I know they have the answer, but want them to wait. Since not all students are going to process information at the same speed, it’s important to ensure that you give a chance for someone else to answer from time to time.
Asking and taking questions is a key part of learning. Instructors should ensure they build sections into their lesson plan to both confirm learning is taking place for the instructor, and giving students an opportunity to confirm understanding.