Cracking the missing case of questions in classrooms




 At one time or another, we have all encountered a student who asks “too many” questions and becomes the laughing stock of the class.

 As high school students, we are often encouraged to ask questions when we do not understand a concept. However, students and even some teachers are unwilling to tolerate students who ask “too many” questions.

 Ultimately, the classroom thrives when students inquire into rigid concepts posed in textbooks and lectures; thus, we must stimulate questions instead of discouraging them in order to foster a nourishing academic environment.

 Regardless, students often perceive their inquisitive peers as nuisances. As a matter of fact, the number of questions students ask declines as children grow older and begin to adhere more to social constructs. To illustrate, during middle school, students in my math class constantly teased me to stop asking questions. Consequently, I began to feel more isolated from my peers and did not feel comfortable speaking in the class. This developed into my shyness and unwillingness to ask questions in high school, and I was only able to overcome my self-consciousness after meeting a teacher who encouraged a safe environment to ask questions.

 In our daily schooling, it seems that those who ask “wrong” questions may be seen as unintelligent and pretentious. After all, if the entire class understands a concept except you, you will feel isolated and fear asking a question on a topic that everyone else feels is easy. You want to portray yourself in the best light possible, and that may be through asking little to no questions. Evidently, this societal obstacle arises when peers brand the plethora of questions as “too much” or “doltish.”     

 In reality, each category of question can expand the student’s knowledge. Fundamentally, there are four main types of questions: managerial, rhetorical, closed and open. Managerial questions maintain classroom operations, rhetorical questions reinforce ideas, closed questions emphasize a given point and open questions stimulate student interaction and inquiry.

 Essentially, when we question, we unlock a pathway to succeed; most notably, closed questions are explicit and often induce a “yes or no” answer, but can effectively eliminate confusion and clarify a concept. For example, if a student asks, “is the mitochondria’s function to create ATP?” his or her informed peers or teacher would answer yes, saving the student and perhaps others in the classroom from a failing grade. Furthermore, innate curiosity may push students to ask many questions and build  concepts, skills, vocabulary and an understanding of the unknown, and answering these questions will help foster learning in a positive way.

 Most importantly, asking open-ended questions can stimulate more developed thinking in all students. By asking questions, we subconsciously explore different perspectives, beliefs and ideas, opening our minds to different possibilities. For instance, in my Theory of Knowledge class, open knowledge questions are asked on a daily basis. For example, in the ethics and morality unit, our teacher asked us questions such as “To what extent do our ideas of ethics and morality impact our daily lifestyles?” Since there are no simple yes or no answers, we must provide explanations to support our claims.  The teacher consistently asks a variety of types of questions for different reasons, but they all serve the same overarching purpose—to evoke conversation within ourselves or with our peers. By asking deeper, second-order questions, students build a greater understanding and appreciation for their surroundings.

 However, questions can also be part of a positive feedback loop that encourages people to feed off each other’s curiosity. When teachers ask students if they have any questions, in most scenarios, the class would remain silent. Yet, if one student initiates the question-asking, others will be more willing to ask questions, thereby benefiting all.

 Thus, we must ask ourselves, “is asking too many questions truly a bad thing?” Again, the purpose and type of question matter, but in the classroom, asking more questions can lead us to ask better questions. So, in your classes, raise your hand assuredly and assert your question boldly. There is nothing to fear, and only more room to grow.