On Asking Questions

“I swear I’ll shoot her in the neck with a horse tranquilizer in the next class.”

“I know! Doesn’t the professor get annoyed?”

I walked out of my calculus class shocked to have witnessed the above conversation unfold before me. 

Formulating good questions is undeniably one of the most difficult parts of education for both students and teachers, while it gives the rest of us a wonderful opportunity to learn the insights from both parties in our classrooms (provided that you’re not sitting, idly scrolling through social channels when the event happens). From a student’s perspective, many of us usually drown ourselves in complete silence when prompted to ask questions because:

1. We don’t know what we don’t know

2. We are afraid of appearing less intelligent

3. We are afraid of judgment and condemnation from our peers for being the usual one to ask the questions (when nobody else is)

4. We’re not comfortable with sharing our thoughts in front of other students

Or, more commonly,

5. We want to hear about what others don’t know

Questioning is the most simple and effective way of learning. Asking questions not only helps us foster a growth mindset in classrooms, but also helps us develop important soft skills that are of paramount importance in the workplace. When asking questions, we learn to articulate our thoughts on the materials, see our faults and fill in our knowledge gaps. We develop critical thinking skills, and ultimately learn how to properly review what we have learned. The more we ask, the deeper are our insights on the materials learned. Even when we’re not the ones asking questions, appreciating someone else’s will help reinforce our understanding too.

Unfortunately, applaudable habits such as asking questions decrease in importance as we age and carry on more responsibilities. In classrooms, we discourage our peers from asking trivial questions. Outside, we hesitantly settle for the select few options that we have learned without giving ourselves more chances to seek out better solutions. In the book, The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential Questions, Elder and Paul say that, “The quality of our thinking, in turn, is determined by the quality of our questions, for questions are the engine, the driving force behind thinking”, illustrating how the quality of questions we ask directly impacts the quality of our lives.

Image source: Ian Schneider 

Questions provide us with increased perspectives. By effectively asking and learning from the questions asked, we, as lifelong learners, will be able to heighten the development of our understanding on a topic and close the gap between what we currently know and what we don’t yet know.