Be a Hero; Ask a Question
“I don’t know how to help the students when they don’t ask questions”
We’ve all heard it and probably even said it if we are teachers (guilty). It is a major challenge for many teachers.
So how do we get our students to ask questions?
It is a tricky subject; even more in the middle grades. Students don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their peers and that is understandable. They are kids and the most important thing in most of their daily lives is how they are viewed by their friends and/or those people they want to be friends with. I think there are a lot of levels that go into this, but an idea was stumbled upon by complete accident in my room a few days ago and I already know it will stick with me the rest of my teaching career in some form or another.
In class, we are hitting the next 6 weeks with overly difficult content to ready the students for their AIMS (state testing) in April. The ole, break ‘em down then build ‘em back up mantra. I explained to the students that each day we will have 3 questions that are supposed to confuse, annoy, scare, and bring the onset of panic. During this conversation, we discussed the importance of helping each other and how we can do that… Then it happened…
Being the smart ass I am at most times be, I yelled out “BE A HERO“! When I thought about the statement, my teaching obsessed self starting laughing at the simplicity and was upset that I hadn’t thought of it 3 years ago.
“How can we be a hero by asking a question?” I asked, and the students replied:
- Helping our classmates learn
- Asking for the quiet people
- Taking the blame of not knowing
- Improving what every kid in the classroom knows
This conversation was similar in all 3 classes. It was one of those moments that you dream for as a teacher, but will never be able to plan. It was the evolution of the classroom and the openness that a good teacher-student relationship should have. The students did everything, I just had to be a smart ass…Easy, right?
On my front white board is written and will remain “Be A Hero. Ask A Question.” Student response and openness to the idea that they are a hero for asking a question has allowed kids who timid to speak up.
“Who wants to be the first hero today?” “Who wants to be the NEXT hero?”
Of course, I milk this for everything it is worth. As I write this, I am realizing a few things that I need to expand on in further posts. The teacher must be able to view student progress through daily work. I’ll discuss this in a minute.
Its a fact, there are a certain percentage of students who will never ask a question in front of the whole class. If there is a solution for this, please help me, but I’m fearing there isn’t. I am not saying its OK for students to not ask questions, I am saying it is our job to find ways for every student to ask. Quiet kids will be quiet, so as a teacher we have to adapt to this.
During instruction, I walk around the classroom while students complete all work on their white boards. There are a million other ways that teachers can track student progression, but this works for me. I know which students can ask a question with me 5 feet away and standing or those for whom I have to kneel down next to their desk to be below their level and allow them to feel comfortable and speak quietly.
There really is an art to being able to get students to ask questions (I think I have a new chapter for my first book that’s not written yet). I don’t feel it is difficult, but I can’t remember ever hearing a discussion about it or having someone actually teach how to do it.
Lets recap how this simple deflection of embarrassment can help EVERY student in the classroom.
- Those 5 students who normally ask questions, even when they know the answer, get the ball rolling while the others see them being called heroes for doing so.
- The rest of the class, besides those 3 on the other end who will never ask in front of everyone, begins to think of any question they can so they can feel like a hero too.
- The students walk themselves through the problems, filling in the gaps that they need filled, not the ones the teacher assumes need filled.
- It’s FUN
- Stressful problems are broken down, students continually view how thinking can help them solve a problem they don’t initially understand (yea, what a concept!), and engagement is high.
How can you take this even further? I am open for all ideas and also would like to know your opinions on getting students to ask questions.
How do you do it?
Thanks for reading,