Answering your students questions with questions immediately changes the classroom environment and promotes independent thinking.
‘Can I use a different colour, how do I do this, I can’t do this, can you help, what’s next, where do I find, can I borrow, where do I put this, they have my pencils and won’t give them back, what’s the time, what are we doing now, I can’t find my drink bottle, where’s the book, I can’t see, I don’t understand, I don’t get it, I don’t know!
You hear these types of comments/questions all day. No wonder a teacher can get so tired and bogged down thinking for their students and answering so many questions every day.
Answer all student questions with a question. Explain to your students… ‘When I answer all your questions it stops you from doing your own thinking – I will do my own thinking, you do yours.
Here are some replies to use when students come and ask questions because they will, it’s inevitable and should never be discouraged.
‘What do you think?’ Often they know already. (This is probably one of my most used questions, puts the onus straight back onto the student).
I have finished this page/done this problem/completed the work what should I do now.’
‘What do you think?’ After their response reply, ‘Great plan of action’ or, ‘Good thinking’.
Always be authentic with your praise.
‘I’ll let you make a decision about that, I know I can trust you to make a good one, true?’
‘True,’ they say.
‘What are you going to do about it that is reasonable, worth while and will solve the problem?’ Leave them to it – you don’t need to solve every problem. Students can and will use clever thinking if they know you trust them to make a sensible decision.
‘Where could you go for the answer? ‘- Book, whiteboard, internet, library, display, information poster, another student, focus group, or just plain common sense will prevail.
‘What have you already done, now what comes next, where can you find out?’
Being well prepared as a teacher enables the students to access the information needed– on the whiteboard, the computer screen, reference material, the work poster containing the criteria and instructions.
‘Do what you need to do to solve the problem’ Students are great at solving problems given the opportunity. Again it shows that you are putting your trust in them to come up with a realistic and satisfactory solution.
‘What are we doing for PE, art, games, mathematics, writing?
‘Where can you find out?
- Students think for themselves.
- Asking a question is very liberating. It empowers your students to make the decisions. Once they know that this is ‘how it is’ the thinking gets going.
- There are no ‘false recues’ by the teacher – students can problem solve and make decisions.
- You feel more in control when you ask rather than tell.
- You become adept at asking questions.
- It’s easier, you don’t have to solve and sort every question, problem and complaint students come to you with.
- You don’t have to think and make decisions all day for up to thirty other people in the room with you. Give that power to the students.
- You need to use effort and persistence to train yourself to constantly use the strategy.
- Set aside a specific ‘Question Time’ during the day where the students can ask and receive answers from you. This works well as part of a morning meeting routine.
- Reverse the situation and ask the students basic questions.
- When students are seeking assistance with new learning guide them to the answers with questions.
Eg: When a students has competed their work rather than tell them what to do next- Ask them!
‘Now what will you do?’
You will see the wheels turning in their head and the thinking start. Teachers mostly tell their students what to do next eg ‘Put away your work in your bag, on the table, in your locker, go and pack up, get your library book, do some quiet reading, finish off your story, work on your project.
By asking this simple question you provide an opportunity for students to think, and make a decision. (It’s a treat to watch the younger students the first time you ask them what do you need to do now?)
You never want or expect the questions to stop and for students to fear that they will ‘be in trouble for asking a question’. It is about leading their thinking to find a solution.
How many problems/questions did you have to sort through today? Was there someone to help you with every single solution or did you have to ‘do your own thinking’, come up with your own solutions.
Thinking, problem solving and making decisions are a part of every single day. Don’t let it stop when the students come through the classroom door. Every single student will benefit from this strategy.