A great way to learn is by asking questions. A question begs to be answered. When you ask a question, your mind starts to explore information in new and purposeful ways.
Research on questioning has shown that some forms of questioning work better than others. Questions that invite explanations, such as “why,” “how does that work,” and “what if,” tend to aid learning the most.
But what happens when teachers instruct by asking questions, Socratic style? Are they really helping, or just wasting time?
Janis Bulgren of the University of Kansas and her colleagues tested the benefits of a question exploration teaching technique for 7th grade student learning. Their paper, “The effectiveness of a question-exploration routine for enhancing the content learning of secondary students,” was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.
According to the question exploration method, the teacher begins by asking a question about an issue to be explored with the class. The class and teacher work together to determine the basic knowledge and key terms they need to address the question. This leads to the formulation of supporting questions, and a search for answers. Students then generate a short answer to the initial question. This answer is the main idea of the topic. Finally, they make connections between the main idea and related topics.
The idea was to have the students explore the topic themselves, with guidance from the teacher. This is similar to a guided discovery learning approach.
Bulgren and her team compared the method to a standard lecture and discussion format. In this format, the teacher communicates the main idea, and then the class discusses it. The researchers made sure that the lessons were covered for the same amount of time, regardless of teaching method.
The question exploration teaching technique led to substantial improvements in learning, as compared with the more traditional format. This was true for a variety of measures that tapped students’ knowledge of facts, comprehension of ideas, and higher order reasoning about the topic.
In addition, question exploration worked for students from a variety of backgrounds. Students with disabilities, as well as students who were low, average, and high achievers all benefited from the question exploration teaching technique.
Teachers could also extend the method in their classroom by using student’s questions to check for understanding.
So, don’t get annoyed with your instructors who like to start off their lectures with questions, and seem to take a while to get to the main point. Appreciate that they are adopting practices that help students learn.
What about when teachers don’t lead off with questions. Can you still obtain a question-exploration benefit?
Absolutely. Asking yourself “why” questions is one of the best study skills out there. If your instructors aren’t showing up to class with questions, then bring them yourself.
Spend some time ahead of class coming up with questions to ask. You may think of these as you are doing homework or reading assignments. Or, you might think of them while reviewing your notes from the last class.
When you get to class, ask away. You’ll learn more, and probably have more fun too.
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Bulgren, J. A., Marquis, J. G., Lenz, B. K., Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (2011). The effectiveness of a question-exploration routine for enhancing the content learning of secondary students Journal of Educational Psychology, 103 (3), 578-593 : 10.1037/a0023930