As the new school year nears, we find ourselves wondering about the students that will sit before us. What’s the best way to reach this new group? How much re-teaching will be needed during these first weeks? What’s going on in the minds of these fresh faces with sun-kissed cheeks? If students were to actually answer that last inquiry, “We’ve got lots of questions too!” would be the perfect response! Skim any list of qualities of effective learners, and one characteristic they all have in common is curiosity. Whether the source is Faculty Focus, World Wide Learner, or Life Optimizer, curiosity always makes the cut. Effective learners will be those students that are able (and willing) to ask questions to clarify understanding, make connections, and delve deeper into concepts being studied.
So this begs the question, How do we help our students become effective learners? The first step is helping them develop their questioning ability. If we facilitate the concept of students becoming the reporters in their own educational journeys, we’ll get them one step closer to becoming effective lifelong learners. Every good reporter knows that the 5Ws and an H questioning method will cover it all! Once they get down the Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How? of asking questions, they’ll be well on their way.
Who?- This may seem silly, but it’s key to owning their learning and realizing that internal questioning is a great strategy as they cover new material or explore text on their own. Is this a question for my teacher or something I should be asking myself? Not understanding all the steps in a math problem? Check with your teacher. Wondering why a historical figure or fictional character behaved in a certain fashion? Ask yourself what you’ve learned about him/her so far that would drive such a decision.
What?- Taking the time to stop and think about what they’re trying to process can be tricky, but it will help cut down on the blanket statement of frustration- I don’t’ get this! As teachers, we need to help them determine what they don’t get. For example, if finding the area of rectangles isn’t making sense, the better question to ask may be, What do length and width have to do with the area?
When?- The best time for a student to ask a question is when they’re experiencing confusion or in need of clarification. We’ve all gotten a parent phone call or note saying a student didn’t understand something. We need to make ourselves open and approachable for questions in the moment. If we can’t answer the question right away, we have to make sure we touch base with the student before he/she heads out the door. Encourage students to jot down questions if the timing isn’t right for asking in the moment. A question journal would be a great tool for an effective learner!
Where?- It would be ideal for students to ask questions in the classroom or learning environment where the questions occur. It can be hard to reestablish the train of thought that brought on the question in a crowded hallway between classes. This is where jotting down questions helps too. Questions that come up on homework or outside of class can be brought to you the next day or sent via an electronic method of your choosing.
Why?- Ensuring understanding and exploring topics through questioning will help students alleviate frustrations that can occur when things get difficult. Learning is both a challenging and rewarding journey. While the road may have its ups and downs, knowing the ins and outs of questioning will help fuel student curiosity and lead to success.
How?- With a smile is always in style! Students also need ask a question with a mindset that’s set to work through the response. If they start out thinking they’ll never get it, they probably won’t. Students should be prepared to process an answer and apply it to a new concept or a new way of looking at a concept that is causing them difficulty. They should also be prepared to not always receive the answer, but rather make time to work through the suggestions given to find an answer on their own.
There’s no cut and dried list for effective learners, but one quality rings true. Let curiosity capture your class! By developing students’ questioning skills, we can work to cultivate effective learners. Any questions?