The Art of Asking Questions
Getting the right answers is not just your student’s responsibility. Much of his success depends on the questions you ask him. And HOW you ask them.
Research on reading comprehension shows undisputed benefits from asking questions. Questions help students of all ages comprehend content, and students who use questions learn more subject matter than students who do not use questions. Questioning also helps students discover their own ideas; it gives them an opportunity to explore and to sharpen critical thinking skills.
This is not news to most home schooling parents. We all ask questions, right? And we certainly answer enough of them in a day! But even veteran home school teachers might need to question their questioning skills every now and then.
- Do we develop thinking skills by asking questions that require our children to think beyond the literal or factual level?
- Use questions that require comparing, evaluating, discerning. (Why? What if? What is the evidence? What are the alternatives? What are the implications? What do you think is right?)
- Prepare several higher-level questions for each subject.
- Do we wait for our child to answer?
- Allow adequate response time. One study of traditional schools investigated the amount of time teachers wait after asking a question. It found that if students do not begin a response within one second, teachers usually repeat the question or call upon another student to respond. Five or six seconds of silence is not much to give in return for a good answer.
- Help your child restate answers. Sometimes we do not hear an answer because it was not stated in the way we expected. Consider the answer a moment. You will not look slow; in fact, your child will be honored that you think his words are worthy of deliberation. Ask another question or restate the answer, in order to determine whether you understood. Take the time to help your child express his answer.
- Do we help our child think toward the right answers?
- Use scaffolding techniques. If your child does not seem to have a good response, ask a lower-level question that offers more clues and definitive information, building up to the higher-level question.
- Demonstrate for your child how you arrive at conclusions by asking questions yourself. For instance, you might say that you read something in the newspaper and asked yourself, "Could that report be true?" Then you asked other questions: "How can I verify that report? Can I trust the source? Why do I question it?"
- Have the answers. Open-ended questions that are not resolved lead children to think that they must "work out their own solutions to life’s problems" and that they cannot "expect to find final answers to most serious questions."1 Christian home school teachers must not only set young minds to thinking but also direct their journey toward a biblical outcome.
If we help our children, they will not only learn course content through good questioning but will also learn how to ask good questions in order to arrive at answers for themselves. And isn’t that the whole point?
About Jim Davis
Jim Davis has been a Christian school teacher and administrator and was formerly head of Product Development for BJU Press.