Monday, July 6, 2015

Taking Student Questions

An important and often overlooked component of good assessment practice is monitoring and responding to the class' reactions while one teaches. Nothing is more frustrating to students than having a question that an instructor will not pause to answer, and nothing is more useful to instructors than knowing if the students are 'getting it' while one is still teaching the concept, rather than weeks later on an exam (when it is too late to easily correct misunderstandings). Successful instructors are the ones who watch for signs they may be losing the class' attention or comprehension, and immediately adapting the lesson to get it back. Asking students questions is a good way to get a sense of their level of understanding, but one must always be prepared to take questions from students as soon as they come up. If a student misses some point early on, their confusion may quickly spiral out of control, whereas a simple and timely clarification can resolve such difficulties.

Not that I have always followed my own advice.

Possibly my worst teaching moment was when a student in the front row started searching through her purse, eventually pulling out a pen and yellow sticky note. I found her lack of attention distracting but managed to carry on lecturing...but then she scribbled a note on the sticky pad and pushed it towards me. I said something like, "Just hold your questions for a moment, until I get through the next few slides" but she persisted in pushing the note at me, even lifting it off the desk and waving it a bit. Highly annoyed at her impatience, I snatched the note and read out, "Your fly is open."

Moral: It really pays to take student questions as soon as possible.

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