A Practical Approach for Increasing Students’ In-Class Questions

Much has been written about creating natural critical learning environments in our classrooms, places where students feel free to pose stimulating questions and pursue interesting answers. But how much do we put students’ questions at the heart of our everyday teaching? The answer might be “not as much as we think.” A number of years ago I was frustrated by how seldom my students asked questions in class, even after I encouraged them to do so.
Why didn’t they take advantage of the most natural component of a critical learning environment? Was it shyness, lack of motivation, unpreparedness? After experimenting with various failed strategies to elicit more in-class questions, I began to suspect something else was happening. It struck me that my students more than likely didn’t know where to begin because—unlike their professors—they hadn’t spent years interrogating ideas. So the challenge for me was to nudge them from novices to something closer to advanced beginners.
A useful starting place is to get students thinking about the kind of work they want their question to perform.There are many kinds of questions, of course (rhetorical, leading, insincere…). At issue here are those questions students could ask to improve their understanding of a subject and its relationships to other subjects. A question in this sense is simply a tool to support and promote learning, so perhaps a useful starting place is to get students thinking about the …