Monday, July 26, 2010

Five Questions You Should Ask Every Student

One of the easiest and most powerful ways to build relationships with your students is to ask questions. The mere act of asking tells your students you care, and what you do with the information you gather will largely determine how effective you can be with those particular kids. Many times knowing what to ask just involves taking their lead, such as asking about an interest or achievement they express in class. Sometimes, though, you need to jump start the conversation.

I’ve found that there are a few seemingly straightforward questions that can open up deep, powerful conversations with students. You may need to adjust them slightly to fit the grade level you teach, but these five questions will prove essential for all students.
  1. What do you want to do after high school? In other words, what are your goals for the future? This opens up avenues to discuss college, supporting yourself, living in the real world, and what they need to do now to reach their goals later.
  2. What do you want to be when you grow up? This is not the same question as the first one, largely because students don’t always see the connection. You can help them make it. You can also encourage them during your regular class activities when something related to their desired career pops up. Even if they end up changing their minds several times over (as we all do well into adulthood), it’s another way to show you care.
  3. How can I help you do better in class? This core question takes different forms depending on when you ask it. At the beginning of the year, you might ask for the one thing you need to do to help them do well. By the end of the year, you should be wondering what you could have done better.
  4. What do you think about school? Learning a student’s opinion about school helps shape your approach to helping them achieve.
  5. Do you think you’re smart? You’ll be surprised how many bright, talented young people say, “No.”
In truth, this list could include fifty questions, but these five are key to opening up the hearts and minds of your students.

Veteran teachers, share your ideas and questions to ask every student in the comments.


halpey1 said...

I like these... I would only add/modify the last one for my age group (kindergarten)... I TELL my students they are smart - they need to hear it all day long. :)

Mark Barnes said...

Good questions all. I'd amend one, if you don't mind. Instead of, "what do you think about school," I might ask, "Do you like to learn," followed by "Do you like school?"

Most will answer yes to the first, while saying they dislike or even hate school.

I might then ask the "I hate school" kids, "If you like to learn, why do you hate school and how can I help you like it?"

I can't take complete credit for this; the idea of kids liking to learn but disliking school comes from Dan Pink's book, Drive.

I want to use it this year, though.

Thanks for a powerful post.

Mr. Neibauer said...

I would hardly call myself a veteran, but I would add something with regards to race? "Have you ever experienced prejudice/racism?" "How do you think race has influenced your learning thus far?"

I admit, these might be tough questions, perhaps saved for the end of the year, but severely important considering our national racial achievement gap.

Mr. D said...

Mr. N: I certainly think that's something you should talk about with older students, but not necessarily everyone. It might get lost on young students when asked in such a direct manner.

Mark: I agree with your adjustment of that question, and I'm not surprised at all to hear the idea that kids love learning but not school. I learn new things every day, but almost never using the delivery methods I experienced before college.

Mr. Halpern: Perhaps you could ask them, "What do you think it means to be smart?" I'm sure your sprouts' responses would be adorably hilarious.

Keep the ideas coming!!

Justin Tarte said...

Mr. D,

Great post with great ideas. As a high school teacher I find these questions to be fantastic in terms of building relationships and connecting with the students. One thing that has worked well is being more specific with number 4...what do you like / dislike about school? This helps give the students a voice and they respond well to being heard.

Katherine said...

I teach college, and I often begin a semester by TELLING my students what I will do to help them learn and to show them that I'm on their side. But ASKING might be a better tack to take, even if it leads me to the exact same actions. I place a lot of emphasis on how they're not in high school any more, and they are adults, responsible for their own learning. Perhaps asking them how I can facilitate that is one way that I can help them appropriate that responsibility.

Thanks for the thought provoking post. I can already tell it will be helpful!

Michelle Burton said...

Thanks for sharing these. I always begin the year with questions for my students to answer so that I can start learning who they are. I will be updating the list after reading this!