Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Questions in my Classroom

Questions in my classroom

I can say my class revolves around questions - the ones I use in guiding the class to a clear understanding of the subject matter being learnt, and the ones the students ask to seek clarifications.

It is inconceivable for me to teach without using questions, both as a build up to introducing a topic, or to perceive the meaning/understandings the students attach to what is being learnt.

In order to progress from the known to the unknown when teaching, I ask questions to gauge the general level and perception the students have on a particular subject matter or one that is related to the topic we are to treat.

Teaching courses that have many virtual components, and which may not seem ‘concrete’ to the students, it is very important that I craft questions that will guide me in deciding how best to present my lessons and other learning activities in such a way that the students will really connect with.

For instance, I have a question I like using most when teaching an introductory Word-processing class about selecting/highlighting and formatting text/objects in Ms Word. I usually phrase the question thus: “if, as we are seated in this class right now, someone just bursts into the class and says “STAND UP”, to whom is s/he referring?”. You get lots of different answers, but the idea I intend guiding them to grasp is the fact that an instruction that is passed without anyone being intended as the target of the instruction is most likely to be ignored by everyone. Amazingly, when I ask this question, mostly it is the younger students who give me the best answer which is “NOBODY!”.

Being able to get them to comprehend the need to direct our statements/instructions to a specified target, it is usually now easier for me guide them to understand that we must first select/highlight text/objects before being able to format it.

The above and many other such questions help me in guiding the students to be able to attach clear meanings to what is being learnt. Instead of simply performing a task because they were taught it worked, they are able to attach concise meanings to the actions and thus understand why it is being carried out and also be able to proffer alternative methods of achieving the same objective.

I start my lessons with a request for questions from the students on past lessons, after clearing any question they raise, I then follow up with revision questions myself to ascertain the level of their understanding of previous lessons. It is only after that that I am able to proceed with the activities of the day. It will be useless going ahead to teach new things without clearing the aspects of the previous lessons that aren’t well understood or misunderstood.

Attempting to move ahead without being sure of where we stood with them will lead to bigger problems ahead.
During the course of actual teaching, I speak for at most 15 minutes, then step aside and allow them 5 – 10 minutes to practice and discuss what has being learnt. After that, it is question time, I receive their questions first, then follow with mine

By allowing these discussions and subsequent questions, we are able to move ahead with every step clearly dealt with and comprehended.

On the other hand, when dealing with a large class, the teacher should avoid falling into the very common trap of asking bland general questions like “Do you all understand?”; this is a question that is most likely to be answered with a loudly chorused “YES!” which in most cases is a false positive given just to please the teacher, it is only by following up with open questions relating to the subject matter that we are able to confirm if the students have truly assimilated the lessons and are able to adapt the knowledge to other like situations.

On the whole, i need to state here that a teacher must ensure s/he creates an environment in questions could be freely asked. It should be a class environment in which the students will feel free to give answers to questions exactly as they understand it. Negative criticism, verbal abuse or physical violence must be avoided when reacting to wrong answers from students, otherwise the hostility will make the students afraid to ask questions or simply give “safe” answers which will not provoke a shout down, verbal assault, or abuse from the violent teacher.

A teacher must develop subtle ways of dealing with wrong answers. Instead of flying into a rage and “raising hell”, it would be best to ask another student repeat the question to the answerer and then maybe explain what is expected from the question.

By basing my lessons around questions answers Further Questions, my classes are usually an environment of never ending interactive dialogue and fun filled.

It is not as if we get the “correct” answers to every question all the time, but even the “wrong” answers sometimes lead us to see things from a new perspective, or at least create some laughter in classroom which in itself is a great thing.

1 comment:

  1. Ibrahim,

    Your comments were a good reminder to me to not use the phrase, "Do you understand." I agree that it does not give us valid information all the time. The one or two students who don't understand would be reluctant to say they didn't understand when the majority of the class "seems" to understand. A good point for all teachers to remember.



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This work by Ibrahim K. Oyekanmi (mallamibro@gmail.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.