There are no stupid questions
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There are no stupid questions!. Or are there?. Let’s consider this. . For each exchange, indicate whether the student asked a good question or an ineffective question. Then, jot down why you believe this is the case. Note: I am very fond of jotting. Scene One.

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Let s consider this
Let’s consider this.

  • For each exchange, indicate whether the student asked a good question or an ineffective question. Then, jot down why you believe this is the case.

  • Note: I am very fond of jotting.


Scene one
Scene One

  • S: Excuse me, Dr. Professor, but I really didn’t understand macro-equilibrius-quintabilus as it applies to the Florida aquifer. Could you explain that again?

  • Good question Not good Question?


Great question
Great question!

  • P: Sure, great question! In fact, the theory of MEQ is particularly important for estimating water tables blah blah blah.


What makes a question ineffective
What makes a question ineffective?

  • Scene 1: Analysis: questions about subject matter of any kind (content or skills class) are ALWAYS good questions


Scene two
Scene Two

  • S: Umm, yo, didn’t understand a thing about that theory stuff (face grimaces, hands wave, etc.).

  • Good question Not good Question?


Not good question
Not good question

  • P: (holds head in hands, despairing)


Scene 2 analysis
Scene 2: analysis

  • First, if the student was in class, why is it that they understand nothing at all?

  • Second, learning is the student’s responsibility; questions such as this lay the burden on the instructor (essentially, the student is saying “make this so easy for me that I don’t even know I’m working here”).

  • Third, this is an emotional statement of frustration, not a question – need to recognize the internal states that indicate learning for you: mark the point of a lecture at which you felt your head bursting or you wanted to cry/shout/break something. That is where your questions begin.


Scene three
Scene Three

  • S: Excuse me, Dr. Professor, but I missed class on Monday. Did we do anything important?

  • Good question Not good Question?


Not so good question
Not so good question!

  • P: No, I never do anything important in class. In fact, I don’t know why we hold class at all. Let’s go grab a beer and shoot some pool.


Scene 3 analysis
Scene 3: analysis

  • Let’s be honest about this – how insulting can you get in so few syllables? Ask this question in a way that doesn’t belittle the professor’s career: “I missed class on Monday. After I get the notes, can I sit down with you and review to make sure I don’t miss an important point?” “Aah,” thinks the professor: “initiative, responsibility, a real student trying to learn.”


Scene four
Scene Four

  • S: What do I have to do to get an A in this class?

  • Good question Not good Question?


Not good
Not good!

  • P: (sarcastically) Nothing, nothing at all.


Scene 4 analysis
Scene 4: analysis

  • The answer to this question is ALWAYS the same: to EARN an A in this class, you must do all the work indicated on the syllabus at a 90% level of performance or better. Don’t know what work is required? READ THE SYLLABUS.


So what makes a stupid question
So, what makes a stupid question?

  • As with all acts of communication, think carefully about your audience and message you want to send!


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