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Questions and Answers in Teaching

Involving a class in questions and answers is the first step away from monological teaching. It is the initial recognition that learning takes place when students are verbally as well as intellectually involved in the educational situation. Here we are attempting to secure verbal interaction. Actually interaction may be of several types and is essential to all learning. Most educators agree that mental interaction is not sufficient but should be accompanied by some form of student expression or reaction. The student must comprehend truth in his own mind, then express it in his own words.

Question and answer teaching gives the student the opportunity to reflect his inquiries and needs for further information. At the same time, by soliciting answers to key questions the teacher gains some insight into the class’ progress.

Can we really take time to allow the student to insert his questions? After all, the teaching session is short, and we have much objective truth to communicate! The basis for questions and answers in Christian teaching can be traced to the ministry of our Lord, who frequently utilized this technique both as a complete methodology in itself, and as a supplement to other types of methodology. Although Marshall McLuhan may argue that the “medium is the message,” the Christian educator may counter that the message controls the medium. To put it another way, what we have to say will have a profound influence on how we say it. Dr. Clifford Anderson of Bethel Seminary writes that “methods may be likened to bridges or roadways that are employed by persons who are concerned to assist others to an objective. They are means to an end. Our experiences in Christ and His body, the Church, give rise to mission which in turn stimulates interest in method.” Methods must therefore be both theologically accurate and educationally adequate. The question and answer method can meet both these requirements.

Values of the Question and Answer Approach

Although the use of questions does not automatically produce effective teaching, adequate use of the question and answer method will greatly facilitate communication. Along with satisfying the need for involvement, this approach to teaching also solicits feedback. By asking questions we can determine whether people are understanding what we are teaching and whether the message of Scripture is being properly applied to contemporary life.

The human mind naturally tends to explore the unknown and to express curiosity about things which seem different or strange. Consider the many times a child may say, “Why, Daddy?” Think of the varied and significant questions asked our Lord by His disciples. Questions and answers direct a pupil’s attention toward the lesson content, When a response is required, we have aroused not only the attention of the individual student, but also the attention of the entire class. Questions can be used for drill and review; they deepen impressions and fix facts in the mind and memory of the student.

Inviting students to participate by asking questions also prompts them to think that it is their class rather than your class. Such identification with the teaching-learning experience may well produce additional motivation and increase the student’s learning level.

Problems in Using Questions and Answers

The use of questions and answers in class is a perfectly legitimate approach to teaching, but it is often confused with discussion. As indicated in the last chapter, perhaps the best way to make a distinction is to emphasize the kind of question involved. Question and answer teaching almost always deals with factual data and objective responses. Very often it is a review of material previously studied by the students, or just covered in a lecture or story. Although thought questions can certainly be used in this approach to teaching, there is a tendency in a thought question to pose a defined problem and thereby lapse over to the discussion technique. Both of these techniques are perfectly valid, but the teacher should be able to identify when he is using discussion and when he is using question and answer.

A common weakness in question and answer teaching is the framing of superfluous or shallow questions which offer no challenge to the class. The use of a rhetorical question, for example, is a worthy device for communication but is not a proper approach to question and answer teaching. Sufficient “mystery” about the answer helps motivate a genuinely intellectual response on the part of the student.

Furthermore, the use of questions should not be viewed as a substitute for knowledge of the material or communication of important content. Questions cannot impart objective data and are not well used to accomplish such teaching goals.

Sometimes teachers spend too much of the classtime asking questions and too little listening to questions. But how can you get your class to talk? The problem of silence generally lies in one of three areas: their past educational pattern has conditioned them to sit and listen but not to participate verbally in the classtime; their lack of interest in the subject creates a “ho-hum” atmosphere so that no questions are motivated; their ignorance of answers to your questions forces them to bide behind a shield of silence lest their lack of study or inability to produce be unmasked.

Principles for Improving Questions and Answers

Like all good teaching, the question and answer technique is planned in advance, it does not just happen in the classtime. The teacher decides what kind of issues can be framed in questions and uses the approach in review, in introduction of new material, or in testing whether the class has understood the material just presented.

Be on the lookout for the teachable moment. Sometimes questions which appear to be off the subject may provoke interest and motivation on the part of the class. A teacher is always a decision maker, and in this situation he must decide whether the answer to the question is of sufficient benefit to the class to take time to deal with it, even though it might not be directly related to the lesson of the hour.

Sometimes it is beneficial to give students the questions ahead of time rather than asking them directly in class. This approach is often necessary when weaning a class from a “sitting and sulking” behavior to a participation behavior. The teacher of an adult Sunday School class for example may distribute 3” by 5” cards with key questions for next week’s lesson. Included on the cards would be some scriptural guidelines for students to do independent research on the questions and be ready to plug in that information during the next class session Variations like this enhance the use of the question and answer technique.

Teachers should only ask questions understandable to the student. The purpose of this technique is not to demonstrate the scholarship of the teacher, nor to display how his superior intelligence can “show up” the comparative ignorance of his students. If a question is not clear to a student, it should be repeated in different verbal forms so that the student can grasp the significance of what is being asked.

The teacher’s response to student questions is also important. Unless it is apparent that the student is deliberately trying to disrupt the class (a situation which is rarely the case), the teacher should recognize each question as one of serious consequence to the student who raised it and treat it with respect. Under no circumstances should a student be made to feel inferior or stupid because of a question or an answer which he offers in class.

Questions can also be used for the sake of application. In teaching 1 Corinthians 8, for example, a teacher might ask his students, “What kinds of behavior today do you think would be like their eating meat offered to idols?” or “How does the lesson of this chapter apply to our lives today?”

Although a small matter, it is important for the teacher to direct the question to the whole class before specifying the student to answer it. Challenge will soon be extinguished when students know that questions are coming in a certain definable pattern, or if the name of a student is always attached right at the outset.

Never be negative toward a student’s response. Even when the wrong answer is given, the good teacher will find some element of truth or commendation to reinforce the response.

The effective use of question and answer methodology is inseparably related to a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and careful lesson planning. The teacher who genuinely wants to involve his students in this way will write out questions in advance and test their significance and relevance rather than just flippantly asking whatever comes into his mind during the lesson period.

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible