Every teacher has a moment at least once a day when a student asks a question about something that has just been explained, and the teacher’s natural reaction is “Weren’t you listening?”
Asking questions in class and seeking clarification is scary. At some point, a person gets ridiculed for asking. Maybe it seems like poor timing, even in a situation like this:
Teacher: (wrapping up a long discussion of what to expect and what sections to review) The test will be Friday. … (Brief pause) … Any questions?
Student: When’s the test?
I know it seems easy to write off a scenario like this as the kid zoned out or was clearly not paying attention. I’m sure there are ways of judging that.
But what if a student has trouble processing information? And what it was difficult to follow along with everything that had been said, and once all that information finally connected, the last piece to the mental puzzle is the test date? I know that sounds like a stretch. Maybe it is in certain circumstances, but it does happen.
I remember a moment during a 9th grade science class where I had a question but was afraid to ask. And someone else asked the same question. I was relieved that it was vocalized! But then felt immediate empathy for my classmate because everyone else in the class laughed. They could have been laughing at me for asking that question.
I’m not saying that every time a child asks a seemingly obvious question that has been addressed multiple times they have a processing problem. Some kids do it deliberately to be disruptive or for the attention. And there are a myriad reasons behind student behavior.
I’m just pointing out this idea so that maybe we can approach education with a bit more compassion. Because some kids really are trying, but they function at a different pace. And making them feel bad for asking a question can have a negative impact.
And maybe if kids are encouraged to ask questions and seek explanation for what they do not understand, we can continue to fan the flame for lifelong learners
This isn’t to say teachers are the problem. But teachers have a unique opportunity to encourage many students at once to treat classmates with kindness. Parents need to teach this too, no matter how annoying it may be.
For me, it really wasn’t until a few years ago when I realized it was ok to ask questions. For the longest time I had seen it as a sign of weakness, no matter how legitimately confused I was. Surely this is information I should understand.
At my first job working at a newspaper, my assignment was to proofread a page that had been designed before it was considered finished and ready to be printed. No one gave me directions; it was assumed I knew what that meant. I had proofread reports and papers in college, so I was familiar with that aspect of things, but I had no idea what was expected for a newspaper. Yet, I was convinced that if I asked “what do I need to look out for?” it might be a clear sign that I didn’t belong at the job. They’ve hired the wrong person!
What I learned later was that there are specific things that need to be checked and verified, along with grammar and spelling errors. To ask about proofreading specifics was a perfectly reasonable move. It really would have showed that I wanted to do a complete, correct job.
Instead, I handed back the page and pointed out spots in the TV grid, asking if certain abbreviations were ok. And then I found out it was a graphic and not something we needed to read thoroughly. What I needed to check was that content fit the space, nothing was cut off, and that the date on the TV grid matched the date for the page. But I didn’t know that.
So teachers and parents, let’s help children become more comfortable with asking questions. No one is dumb for asking a question. No one is stupid for needing more information or to have something repeated. In reality asking questions is a sign of strength because it shows that while you don’t understand something completely, you want to comprehend!
In the same way, not knowing an answer isn’t a sign of stupidity or weakness either. You can’t be expected to know everything.