Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10.17.11 Rick West and Teaching With Questions

How do you teach with questions? This and many other questions were answered as Rick West both demonstrated and discussed his unique teaching method that encourages student participation and provides instant feedback to the instructor. Rick started GTC with a sample of his teaching technique. Walking around the room he taught us a mathematical concept by constantly asking the class for feedback. Is this right? Do you think it can be done? Who agrees? Rick managed to elicit responses from every one of us.

After the teaching demo we discussed how he engaged the class. A few things came up that were not intimately tied to the questioning, but were engaging techniques none-the-less. Eye contact. Walking around the room. Showing excitement. Then we got into the specifics.

Rick creates an expectation of participation in his classes. He asks a question and waits, patiently, for a response. If there is none, he asks a simpler question, then another, and another, until the class can answer. He asks questions of the entire class and waits for everyone (hand up / hands down). This creates a climate in which students feel they are expected to and supposed to participate. By continuing to ask questions even when no one responds, Rick lets his students in on the secret that they will need to respond in order for the class to progress. By waiting for all students to respond to a simple "How many people have thought about X?" He lets people know that he expects a response from EVERYONE! This breeds a climate ripe for participation. So, when hard questions come along, the class ready and willing to give it a go.

An important thing we noticed was that after a few minutes of his teaching it was actually more comfortable to participate than to sit stoically in silence. This is in part owing to the uncomfortable silence when we didn't respond, but also to the manner in which Rick asks questions. By asking questions of the whole class at once and asking simple yes/no questions much of the time, Rick does not pressure students to answer something they did not volunteer to answer. We didn't feel pressured to answer anything too complex, and we were not made to feel stupid even if we got an answer wrong.

What do you do with a wrong answer anyway? Say, "NO, thats wrong."? Rick adresses wrong answers by trying to understand the student's logic behind them, focusing on what was correct about their logic and then addressing the incorrect part with another question to the entire class. Diverting the attention away from the 'wrong' part of the answer makes the student comfortable and serves as a teaching opportunity.

How do you get started using this technique? Give it a try to review concepts. Graduate to using it for easy explanations for part of the class. If you have more questions or would like to talk to Rick please email him at

Thank you Rick for joining GTC this week! We enjoyed your 'lecture?'.

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