Thursday, May 12, 2016

On teaching: Questions

Teaching at first seems like an exercise in delivering information to your students.  And while that's not wrong, it's not all there is to it.  Questions are a huge part of the teaching process, but not just in the way you might be thinking...

The obvious way this comes into play is when students ask teachers questions.  That can be a very easy way to teach, assuming you know the answers!  I love it when I'm asked questions that are relevant to the topic, but then when the answers I give are digested.  If only it were so easy, right?

But asking questions designed to make students think can often be a lot more beneficial than simply answering their questions.  Maybe it's answering a question with "what do you think the answer is?" (PJ used to do that to me a lot, haha), or instead asking them something that reveals a mistake they aren't aware of (during belt testing, we black belts ask those kind of questions often).  Even simple questions can make people learn more than just giving them answers right off the bat.

What happens if you encounter a group of students that aren't very responsive?  They don't ask questions when prompted, they don't really give answers, and it can be anything from being shy or intimidated to simply not knowing what to say as a reason.  In this case, an invaluable skill is predicting what questions they do have, but aren't vocalizing.  This requires careful observation of them doing whatever it they need to work on and seeing what's tentative, what's uncertain.  That uncertainty might transfer to asking questions, so being able to figure out what those questions are (even if they themselves don't know they should ask) is a skill any teacher can benefit from.

Finally, you should always ask yourself, "can I take a different/better approach?"  A strong teacher isn't necessarily a *good* teacher.  What do I mean?  I mean you can have someone that knows their shit inside and out, makes people feel at ease, and can do everything they're telling you to do.  But what if they have all that but can't get their point across?  If a class of people can't get something the teacher is teaching, it might be the class, but it might be the teacher, too.  A good teacher has to be able to adapt on the fly.   The only way they'll be able to do that is to ask themselves if their style is working and if not, what to change.

You know by now that I find questioning things to be crucial to one's growth.  It may not ingratiate me with everyone, but it's who I am.  As a teacher, questions are a powerful tool for both you and your students, regardless of how long you've been teaching or how many students you have.  And since this post is about questions, I'll leave you with a good one:

If a teacher is teaching but no one is learning, is it really teaching?

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