By: Hadeel Al Kamli
Have you ever been in a meeting or a lecture where you had a burning question that you couldn't get over? It is a simple question, yet everything won't make sense unless you get an answer. What makes it hard to ask is that everyone else seems to have figured it all out. Which makes you feel somewhat stupid. However, when you finally find the courage to ask your question, everyone heaves a sigh of relief, perhaps more will have the bravery to ask questions, and you realize that your question wasn't "silly" after all. In his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), Carl Sagan states that "There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”. I know for a fact that I have been in that situation so many times. As a teacher, this made me think about the importance of learners' questions. Why is it so important to encourage learners to ask questions? And more importantly, how can we do that?
No matter how "silly" or insignificant you think it is, a question represents a gap that needs to be filled. Not only that, but questions also give us "teachers" a glimpse into the learners' minds. It helps us identify how students think, how much they know about a topic, and which aspects they find most challenging. Moreover, encouraging questions will keep the discussion flowing, interesting, and engaging. Furthermore, it will help students dig deeper, be critical thinkers, and will promote active learning.
Students often find it challenging to ask questions and that is caused by one or all of the following reasons: a) It could be because they feel shy or embarrassed and uncertain of how others would react to their questions, (b) It might also be because they assume that asking questions will make them look less intelligent or less competent in front of their peers, and (c) It may be because they cannot properly formulate a question that would appropriately get their inquiry across. No matter the reason, here are some tips that I believe could encourage learners to ask in class.
Although we might think that we are doing our students a favor by allowing them to ask questions, we are the ones privileged to be allowed to explore our students' minds. Those inquiries provide proof that students are learning. We should never forget that if learners are questioning, they are learning. What a prize!