Insightful questions indicate that a student has an idea or a problem on which he is working, and wants to learn more about it. The student wants to explore and broaden his ideas. Exactly what is it that such a student wants to learn? Facts are not usually what he wants to learn. More typically, he wants to learn about implications and alternatives, suggestions about his planned approach, different ways of looking at a problem, and so on. He wants someone to help him think through his ideas or problems on his own.
When these problems are personal, some people go to psychiatrists. But where do we go if the problems are technical or managerial, or everyday (but hopefully non-neurotic) in nature? Well, then we go to a friend, a colleague, or occasionally, a teacher who is a good listener. When students come to teachers with half-formed ideas they want to flesh out, the role of a good teacher is to ask questions, not tell answers.
The role of the teacher during the questioning process is to help the student see the shortcomings in his thinking. It is to open his eyes to alternatives, erroneous assumptions, and eventualities he has not considered. It is, most of all, to challenge the student to develop a deeper understanding of his own knowledge. In order for the student to gain such an understanding, he must experience expectation failure. A teacher should aim to provide the questions that will lead the student into the understanding cycle.
Asking questions at the right time is a critical role of a good teacher. This statement summarizes what we call the sounding board model of teaching. When teachers adopt the role of sounding boards, they should allow students to speculate, wonder, imagine, and be creative. However, it is rather difficult for teachers to be effective sounding boards. Teachers like to tell the correct answers to students. Teachers do not have the time to sit with students, and encourage them to pursue the implications of what they are thinking. Additionally, teachers often fall into the trap of thinking they are asking questions when they are really only delivering answers using the syntactic guise of a question.
Asking Good Questions
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