I was intrigued when I viewed an old film showing George Polya using questions alone to help a group of teenagers “discover”–and prove–the Pythagorean Theorem. Watching Polya draw that discovery out of his students confirmed for me that teaching by questioning encourages and develops higher level thinking in students. Here are three strategies I have found that enhance the learning power of good questions:
WAIT AFTER A QUESTION: Before facilitating a satellite discussion between students at our college and students in Belize, I learned it is culturally helpful to wait after a question has been posed, to allow the person to collect his or her thoughts, and to make sure he or she has had the chance to respond fully. I now use that approach in my classes today. One minute seems an eternity, but the wait is worth it.
ASK LEARNERS TO WAIT AFTER A QUESTION: Preparing to teach first graders in Sunday school, I read in the teachers’ manual about the value of asking open-ended questions and urging students to reflect on a question before answering. I learned to say, “Here is a question. I will give you time to think about it before I take answers.” It is amazing how even the shyer children can come up with astute, insightful comments when given time to reflect. I have found the same to be true in my college math classes.
ASSUME THERE ARE QUESTIONS: I found it hard to elicit questions from students until I observed a master teacher, Dr. John Mark Nielsen, who teaches English at Dana College. I had always asked, “Are there any questions?” Seldom did a student ask one. Dr. Nielsen, instead, asked, “What are your questions?” His question elicited many questions, perhaps because the way he asked it assumed that there would, of course, be many questions. Now, just by changing the structure of my question, I get wonderful student questions.
–Connie Buller, Faculty, Mathematics, Metropolitan Community College, NE