The Question is the Answer

What is the answers to school success? Questions

Mind reading is not a class offered in any teacher education courses, however it is the most valuable tool students and teachers have for assuring students are getting the most out of their education. 

Teachers can't really be sure how the students are taking in the information during instruction without asking them questions. But the real secret to effective instruction is not just the teacher's questions, but more importantly, the students' questions. 

Students have the most valuable tools in their toolkit and yet most do not use them. They fear ridicule from peers and teachers.

When students learn the role of questions in how their brains process and retain information, they are more likely to release the negative feelings related to them. Sharing the following with students will facilitate effective questioning:

1. When a concept being taught is confusing, students may experience sudden urges to use the restroom. This could be the result of the job of the amygdala. It is designed to recognize when we feel threatened and sets off a series of chemical changes that will protect us. The primitive response to the fight or flight feeling is the body's intuitive need to eliminate all excess weight to allow for a speedy escape. During "fight or flight" our focus is strictly on self-preservation. The threat presented in the classroom could be, "I am the only one in here who has no clue what's going on."

Before students ask to use the restroom, they need to determine if they really need to visit the restroom or if the instruction is confusing. Nine times out of ten the latter is the reason. Armed with neuroscience information, students become aware that they need to determine what is confusing, raise their hands, and ask for clarification.

2. The reticular activation system is the filter system of the brain. It's job is to filter out unnecessary information. It is also designed to alert the hippocampus to find answers from previously learned material or subconscious information the brain has absorbed. The hippocampus is like Google for our brains. It responds to questions and will search until it finds the answer. If students relax, they allow their brains to find answers they didn't even realize they knew. If they remain stressed, the amygdala will inhibit the access to prior knowledge. (This explains why a student can demonstrate competence during class practice but fails the test). 

3. Addressing the fear of asking questions is of foremost importance before students will be comfortable asking for clarification. The following series of questions has helped me eliminate the fear of asking questions in my classroom. 

"Have you ever been glad a classmate asked a question?" ("Yes.")

"Why were you glad?" ("I had the same question.")

"So, you were glad they asked the question, because it was the same questions you had. Am I correct?" ("Yes.")

"Did you think they were dumb for asking the question?" ("No.")

"Why?"  ("It was the same question I had.") ("I didn't even think of asking that question, but it helped me.")

"So why would you think they would think you are dumb if you ask a question?"

"Teachers don't know what you don't know. They want to teach you what you don't know, but they can't read minds. They don't want to teach you what you know already because that would be boring. They want to teach you what you don't know. So how will they know what you don't know?" I usually have to repeat this a couple of times.

"If I am doing instruction and I am not clear, I need to know where you need me to say things differently so you can be successful with the work you are going to do. If you go to "lala land" or the bathroom, then go home and ask your mom for help, who is going to know what you don't know?" 

"There are many ways of offering instruction on any concept. If you are confused and let me know, I will try showing it to you in different ways until it makes sense to you. Then I will learn how to share new ideas in the future and make it easier for you to understand new concepts quickly."

"Do you want to be confused and have to use the restroom, or do you want to learn new concepts quickly?" (They usually choose the latter.)

"What do you need to do to make that happen?" ("Ask questions.")

Parents can adapt this dialogue to help their children become the question askers in the class. 

4. Students need to prepared for future teachers who will not respond positively to their questions. Offering them responses that will support their unique needs is necessary to have them continue asking questions in the future. 

Demonstrating how to ask effective questions will support children as they matriculate. Saying, "I don't get it," will irritate teachers. Asking, "What does the would exponent mean in question number five?" is specific and shows the student has identified exactly what they need to know to successfully complete the work.

My next blog will go deeper into countering negative responses and how to ask effective questions.  


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