This week’s tip focuses on questions. Questions are an integral part of teaching and learning, and good questions require creativity and thoughtfulness. When I observe classes I often teachers ask “Are there any questions?”, and nearly always the class response is silence. If there are questions they almost always comes from the students sitting in the first row, who are often not representative of the majority of students in the class. Framing, asking and answering good questions are powerful teaching and learning approaches. Last month’s Teaching Professor article by Patty Kober-Evans deals with the issue of questions and why they matter and their importance in getting to know one’s students. One approach to getting students to think is to regularly ask three questions; What did we talk about?, How is it related to the class material?, and Why is it important?. These three questions align with the various levels of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy, “what” asked about facts and content (remembering), “how” asks about relationships (understanding and analyzing), and “why” asks about higher cognitive level skills (creating and evaluating).
In previous tips I have talked about the one-minute paper and exit strategies. One suggestion is on a regular basis ask students to answer the “what”, “how”and “why” questions. One can do this by using the last few minutes of the class to have them answer these three questions. This can be done using paper and pencil, or using poll everywhere or an in class Moodle activity. Alternatively, the questions can be a Moodle assignment to be completed before the next class. The answers don’t have to be individual and one suggestion is to make this an in-class groups exercise where each groups is assigned one of the questions and has five minutes to come up with an answer which is then shared with the class. All of these are useful ways to collect student feedback on engagement and understanding.
As important as being able to answer questions is getting students to be able to ask good questions. This is difficult, students are often shy and are not use to asking questions that go beyond surface knowledge. I once taught a general education course “Microbes and Society” where each week on Tuesday students had to hand in two questions for the class discussion on Thursday. In the first few weeks of the course the questions were at best, trivial and often dreadful, the majority of questions were simply fact questions whose answers could be easily found using a Google search. However, with practice, guidance, and examples, by the end of the semester students were able to create good questions such as “What is the relationship between disease and hygiene in a modern hospital”, “How to vaccines work?” “Why are microbes required for life on earth?”. Questions that fostered discussion and learning.
If you’re interested in getting your students to be critical thinkers and engage in higher order cognitive skills, consider integrating the use of student generated questions into your course. Although we’re in the last month of the semester, question exercises could be easily tied in a few classes to see it is works and to get a read on of student understanding. You should not be surprised or disappointed if initially the student generated questions are not very good. Developing and writing good questions takes time and effort, but it is a hallmark of scholarship, in both teaching and research.
If you try the question approach in one of your classes, please post feedback of whether or not it worked. Use the comment box below.
Attach the TP-Question PDF- Questions_ Why Do They Matter_ – The Teaching Professor Article.