Questions that Enhance Learning

In Episode 2 of Teach With Your Hands, Chris mentioned a teaching paradigm that really resonated with me.

Sometimes when students come to you in a class asking for help, your knee jerk reaction is to solve their problem for them. This isn’t working? Here’s how you fix it. You messed up? Here’s what to do next.

But in Chris’ mind, sometimes the better way to handle the situation is to ask them a question, instead. One like, “What do you think?”

This does four things.

1) Depending on the size of your class, having every student come to you every few minutes wanting to know exactly what to do next can be overwhelming. Encouraging students to spend time trying to figure things out themselves means you have more time to focus on the students who need the most help.

2) Students learn how to solve their own problems. You only have to ask this question a few times before students start coming to you to verify solutions (“Could I do this?”) instead of expecting pre-packaged answers (“Now what?”). That means they’re spending time thinking about their problem, deepening their own understanding of what they’re doing and why, instead of relying on you and your understanding too much.

3) When a student comes up with their own solution, you can use it gauge how well they understand the problem they’re facing and the techniques available for solving it. If they come up with a bad or dangerous solution, you’ve can take the opportunity to teach and correct, hopefully giving them a deeper, contextual understanding of whatever process they’re learning.

4) Sometimes, students will come up with a creative solution you might not have thought of. Maybe’s it’s more efficient, maybe it will lead to a more interesting or unique end product. Maybe you’ll learn something from them.