Can Questions Be A Powerful Learning & Teaching Tool?

Can Questions Be A Powerful Learning & Teaching Tool?

A teacher enters a classroom. She starts teaching well.

After a few minutes, she asks a question to her class of 30 children. As soon as children begin to think, she either accepts the answer from the first child who raises his/her hand or gives away the answer herself.

This repeats day after day, year after year. Every time children begin to think, their thought process is nipped in the bud. Slowly, children give up. They stop thinking.

They grow into adults who are not curious about the world they live in. They stop questioning and easily accept any information presented to them.

How unfortunate!

Why not ask questions and give children the time to think?

How amazing it would be if teachers changed their lectures into such questions! And after each question, children got sufficient time to think. This way children will not only learn better but also blossom into extraordinary thinkers.

What does the research say?

Research shows that new neural pathways are formed when we learn by thinking. Blood flow increases into parts of the brain and new areas of the brain get activated.

In a study on London’s taxi drivers, it was found that they have a much larger hippocampus – the part of the brain that plays a critical role in learning and memory – than bus drivers. Why? Because the taxi drivers drove through a new path every day. They were forced to think and remember new routes. On the other hand, the bus drivers drove through the same route every day.

Learning is much the same. Our brain grows when we are stretched to think. And, what better way to make children think than to ask them good questions?

The good news is that we don’t even need to ask children to solve difficult puzzles in schools to make them think. Every subject that we teach in school – Science, Math, Geography, etc. – is filled with opportunities to ask questions.

Lectures vs Questions. Why do lectures not work?

A young Physics professor called Dr. Derek Muller from Australia set out to investigate this. He showed children a few Physics videos. After each video, the students mentioned that the videos were clear and concise. They also reported that they were confident of their answers. But, when Dr. Muller asked them questions to test their understanding, the students scored very low.

Dr. Muller learned that these videos only informed the students about the Physics concepts but they did not result in any learning.

This research makes us realise that lectures are passive. They do not push us to make any effort. And if we do not make any effort, we cannot learn anything. Questions, on the other hand, force children to think.

The curse of knowledge

Teachers suffer from the curse of ‘knowledge’. They tend to assume that just because they may be good at the subject, children will learn if teachers ‘teach’ very well. That is why you would see many teachers trying their best to explain slowly, repeat themselves and even show theatrics. They assume that if children are appreciating their classes or getting good marks in the exams, they must be learning.

Teachers need to think again. They need to ask themselves: Can I replace my statement with a question? How do I make children think without revealing the information?

How can teachers involve more questioning in our classrooms?

Children are natural thinkers. They like probing and prodding their parents and teachers when they are young. But, they get lectured into becoming less curious. If teachers keep speaking so much, when will they get the time to think?

Let us make a conscious effort to start lecturing less and start including effective questioning techniques in the classroom. Because one good question can be more powerful than a thousand lectures.

About the Author
Author: Aneesh BangiaWebsite:
Aneesh Bangia is the co-founder of Open Door. He graduated from IIT Madras in 2010. Soon after graduating, he joined Ashok Leyland and started teaching Physics to his colleagues at the company. He realized that he was passionate about teaching. So, he quit his job and continued his interest in teaching. In 2013, he and Abhishek Kariwal, who also graduated from IIT Madras, started discussing the problems in the education system. Their thoughts aligned and they started Open Door.
Follow on Twitter @aneesh_bangia
Connect on LinkedIn Aneesh Bangia

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