Looking out at the 22 kindergartners, I was killing the library lesson … or so I thought! When I became an elementary librarian, I worked to create lessons that encouraged a love of reading and literature AND taught comprehension skills, so after much planning and practicing, my first kindergarten lesson, involving character analysis, was rocking along. We had already noted how the character’s words and actions showed sadness about being lost in the jungle. I could tell that the students were engaged - all eyes were on the pictures in the book and the students sat quietly to hear every word. In the middle of the lesson, a girl’s hand shot up in the air. What? Did my lesson provoke an intellectual question? What insights might she share? I was on a librarian high as I thought that I was totally inspiring these young learners! The young girl paused for a moment and then asked, “When do you think this tooth will fall out?” and proceeded to show me and the rest of the students her very wiggly front tooth! So much for my great lesson! So much for my librarian high! I politely answered that I really couldn’t answer that question and finished the lesson, without calling on any other students with hands raised. I learned early in my librarian career that kids don’t always ask the best questions at the best times. And guess what? Adults don’t either!
Let’s revamp Shakespeare’s famous line of “To be or not to be” to say “To ask or not to ask” and take some time to focus on good and bad questioning skills and strategies. And the best way to look at questioning is to ask questions!
What are good questions? Questions to seek information, express interest, clarify, and encourage thought are good questions. Open-ended questions designed to encourage detailed responses are good questions. Questions used to resolve conflict or clear up any misunderstanding are good questions. But remember - any question designed to trick or trap or anger someone is a bad question.
How should we ask questions? Work to present a clear, concise question. Allow an appropriate amount of wait time for a response (count 7 seconds). Be genuine and show that you care about the response. Show gratitude for the response.
When is a good time to ask questions? The best advice here is to be an active listener. Active listening involves becoming completely engaged and focused on the speaker. AFTER hearing and reflecting the message, THEN the questioning can begin. In other words, don’t think about your questions until AFTER you hear the message. Work to not interrupt, but if you need to clarify or if time is running out, be polite - “Excuse me, but can you clarify this point?”
Why should we ask questions? Questions are the foundation for developing relationships. Think back to when you first met your significant other. You slowly discovered each other through questions -- Where did you grow up? What was it like? What is your favorite food/color/animal? Humans are continually gathering information to learn, to problem solve, to understand. Questions connect us to others, personally and professionally, and help those relationships strengthen and grow.
As I continued working as an elementary librarian for the next 8 years, I learned to appreciate ALL of the questions my kids asked, even those asked at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Those questions helped me learn more about my students and helped us connect, even if the questions weren’t always about my lessons. etc Strategies believes that asking good questions can build stronger relationships resulting in better communication. And by the way, that wiggly tooth fell out right at the end of my lesson, and the young girl then asked me, “How much money do you think the tooth fairy will bring me?” I couldn’t answer that one either!!