Why Are Questions So Scary?

I remind my students constantly that I can't help if they don't do one of two things: 1) Ask me a question when they're confused, or 2) get something wrong on an assignment. I need to see their thinking, and those two methods - along with my questioning - are the best indicators of strengths and weaknesses.

Lately, it's spiraled into something much more confounding. Students are stuck, but they refuse to ask anything. Even when I give a freebie, anything-goes offer. When I come by to prompt, they admit to being stuck, but then don't do the small task to get unstuck. So there they remain. And nothing gets done.

And so we spiral.

It's hyperbole, but I think they feel like kids in the car in Jurassic Park when I come by.

The fear of being wrong - searching for the right answer every time - is something I've tried to combat all year long, but it's still got hold of most of my students. So many are afraid to be wrong, that they're paralyzed and can't take the help, even when offered outright. It's a safety thing...I don't know if they don't feel safe because of my teaching style or because of peers...but it's something that needs to be worked out somehow.

How do you help students get over the initial hump of just asking a question? Even if it's something as simple as, "What's the charge of a proton?" A small door like that would allow me to build their confidence and point to small, accomplishable tasks which will help them progress on their own.

3 thoughts on “Why Are Questions So Scary?

  1. Julie gonski says:

    Partner practice, they are more likely to ask each other, and are more likely to ask you if they have a partner with same question. I used to give 2 different sets of problems A and B with the answers to the opposite set on back of paper. Students work independently then check with partner for correct answers, if wrong partner would help correct, they would be same problems with different numbers.

    • Brian Bennett says:

      This is a good idea…I didn’t ever think to have two sets of questions on paired papers. Like I said in the post, I’m working hard on overcoming the “activation energy” that’s really lacking with most students. Having a short term, accomplishable goal will definitely help with that. Thanks!

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