15. The Climate
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The classroom climate is a key variable in the process of learning through questions. When teachers wind up a strained explanation of a difficult new concept just as the class bell is about to ring and they ask, "Does anyone have any questions?" It is not at all clear to students from the tone and body language that student questions are sincerely desired. On the contrary, the message is that no questions should be necessary, partic ularly ones which require lengthy or involved answers. Indeed, to ask questions at this point is also to risk the wrath of the students as well as teacher for keeping them from their next class.
There are many alternatives to the "Are there any questions?" approach. The classroom climate which promotes student thinking and questioning has students write down questions at the end of the period. Every student is asked to write an anonymous question that will be answered in writing or verbally the next day in class.
Every student can write a question, because the teacher who cares about stimulating curiosity, teaches what is not knows as well as what is known. The combination has to produce questions in everyone! Another approach is to pause during a lecture or discussion and ask students to formulate a question about the content just discussed.
After a moment to jot down questions individually, pairs of students compare questions and answer the questions. Interesting or unusual questions are shared with the whole group. The exercise should take 3 - 5 minutes and will help ensure understanding and involvement in the material.
But the key to climate is the attitude of teacher toward questions. Are they viewed as digressions, annoyances, to be hurried through, to be answered correctly, to show what students do not know? Or are they tools for the job of learning, toys for playful minds, full of puns, answers for other questions, an indication of powerful thinking, a celebration of curiosity? Are they answered with care, given special place in discussions, written without answers, given without requirements, extended with more questions?
If a teacher desires student questions, they must be greeted with enthusiasm, a commitment of time and an unthreatening manner. As students begin to receive the rewards of asking questions, the phenomenon will occur with increased frequency and quality. If out goal is to teach people how to learn through passing on the best of what we already know, then our best hope is through nurturing curiosity and the tools to quench its thirst.
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