June 25th, 2009

More on Questions and Participation


I’m still thinking about participation … even more convinced of the point in the previous blog … we need to be asking questions that do a better job of engaging students’ interests. I’ve also been thinking about how I don’t often prepare questions. I tend to ask when something comes to mind, as the session is unfolding. When I prepare, I work on the content. I review the material, think about how to structure the content, and try to generate good examples, but I don’t prepare questions, especially questions that aim to tap whatever interests learners might have in the topic. I need to start working on questions like that.

This thinking about participation also reminded me of something I read in one of Marshall Gregory’s articles. He says we think we’re inviting students to be active learners when we ask them questions. But he thinks we’re deceiving ourselves. “Usually we ask few questions to which we do not already know four different answers that we are eager to explain.” (p. 313)

That’s pretty blunt, but I think he’s on to another reason why our attempts to encourage participation are not always as successful as they could be. I don’t know about you, but I do mostly ask questions I can answer (indeed, like to answer) and when students do offer an answers, I often find myself thinking how much better my answer is. Of course, it’s better, I’ve had time to think about the answer and many times it’s a question I’ve asked before so I’ve also had opportunities to rehearse the answer.

With a glass of wine on the deck yesterday noon, I decided I ought to face the facts. Ostensibly I use participation to engage learners … I think I’m doing it for their benefit, but I don’t often use participation techniques that benefit them—that engage their interest or that invite them to join me in a quest to discover an answer we jointly create.

Reference: Gregory, M. (2006). From Shakespeare on the page to Shakespeare on the stage: What I learned about teaching in acting class.” Pedagogy, 6 (2), 309-325.