A great way to learn is by asking questions.
A question begs to be answered. When you ask a question, your mind starts to explore information in new and purposeful ways.
Research on questioning has shown that some forms of questioning work better than others. Questions that invite explanations, such as “why,” “how does that work,” and “what if,” tend to aid learning the most.
But what happens when methodically teaching by asking questions, Socratic style? Are you really helping students learn, or just wasting time?
Janis Bulgren of the University of Kansas and her colleagues tested the benefits of a technique for teaching by asking questions on 7th grade student learning. Their paper, “The effectiveness of a question-exploration routine for enhancing the content learning of secondary students,” was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
The class and teacher work together to determine the basic knowledge and key terms they need to address the question. This leads to the formulation of supporting questions, and a search for answers.
Students then generate a short answer to the initial question. This answer is the main idea of the topic.
Finally, they make connections between the main idea and related topics.
The idea is to have the students explore the topic themselves, with guidance from the teacher. This is similar to a guided discovery learning approach.
Bulgren and her team compared the method to a standard lecture and discussion format. In this format, the teacher communicates the main idea, and then the class discusses it. The researchers made sure that the lessons were covered for the same amount of time, regardless of teaching method.
The method of teaching by asking questions led to substantial improvements in learning, as compared with the more traditional format. This was true for a variety of measures that tapped students’ knowledge of facts, comprehension of ideas, and higher order reasoning about the topic.
In addition, “teaching by asking questions” worked for students from a variety of backgrounds. Students with disabilities, as well as students who were low, average, and high achievers all benefited from the question exploration teaching technique.
Teachers could also extend the method in their classroom by using student’s questions to check for understanding.
So, try starting off your next class with a few well-chosen questions, and give students some space to explore them. It may not be completely comfortable at first, but you’ll be adopting practices that help students learn.
What if you’re not ready to try teaching by asking questions “full on.” Can you still get some of the benefit in your class?
Absolutely. Getting your students to ask themselves “why” questions teaches them one of the best study skills out there. Make an assignment for your students to show up to class with questions.
Have them spend some time ahead of class coming up with questions to ask. Tell them to try to think of these as they are doing homework or reading assignments.
When in class, make time up front for them to ask away. They’ll learn more, and probably have more fun too.
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Bulgren, J. A., Marquis, J. G., Lenz, B. K., Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (2011). The effectiveness of a question-exploration routine for enhancing the content learning of secondary students Journal of Educational Psychology, 103 (3), 578-593 : 10.1037/a0023930