A look at classroom discussions and two-way interactions
By Jamal Al-Bayaa, Staff Writer
Jessica is in a sociology class that’s three hours long. All she wants to do is go home. That’s not possible, but she’d at least like to get up and move a little bit. She thinks about just standing up for the sake of it, but she knows it’ll incur some funny looks and personal embarrassment.
Although Jessica is paying attention, she’s not doing it with any extra motivation. She just has her notebook out and jots down what might be important. She doesn’t get to interact with the material much, mainly because of the way lectures are generally designed.
Professor Kruz’s lecture style is one that is unbroken and constant. She lectures for an hour straight, then calls for a break, and follows it with another hour and a half of lecture. There’s not much room for questions, so she tries to leave some room for them at the end, thinking that if anybody has any questions, they’ll come up at the end of class.
She poses that same question to students at the end of every class: “Any questions?” No one ever has any. What she doesn’t realize, or maybe she does, is that by the end of class, students are already packed up, waiting with anticipation for the salutation they’re used to being dismissed with, so they can move on to the next part of their day.
Everybody has felt like Jessica at one point in their lives, and we’ve probably all had a teacher like Kruz. They speak for long periods of time and save all questions for the end. For most students, one way lectures don’t promote their highest learning potential. We like to talk in equal parts. Barring that, we’d at least like to not be collectively silent throughout the class. Teachers have always known this, but it’s not yet a general trend to have a teacher think to themselves: “How can I best inspire my students to ask questions?”
There are many ways that will work, and one way that won’t: Asking “Any questions?” right before the end of class.
To most students, questions at the end of class means that if anybody does ask one, everyone else has just had their valuable out-of-class time stolen from them. Sometimes a quick question does come out of those end of lecture conversations, but they will rarely start a thought-provoking conversation about the material. It’s simply because that would stop everyone from going home early, which is always a plus. Yet those thought-provoking conversations that dive deeper into the material than the final exam requires is exactly what promotes active learning, and overall interest.
If you look at the way that moderators facilitate question periods, they always ask the first question, because it gets the blood flowing in everyone else’s head. Without that ice-breaker, the room is often silent. Not only do people often shy away from being the first person to ask a question, they generally can’t even think of a question until someone else has already asked one. Hearing other questions gets the pressure off of them and gives them an example to connect with and from which to build their own question.
Once that first question is asked, questions always keep pouring out. Whether it’s inside or outside the classroom, the principle is the same: Questions inspire a genuine interest in the answer, so teachers need a way to harness them. Right inside the lesson plan, time should be made available for serious questions and conversations. Most importantly, the teacher should never give up on questions until at least the first one has been asked and then there’s silence, simply because that will increase the learning and benefit of the experience for everyone.