One of the best ways to assess what students are learning and understanding in your class is to ask them questions. It’s also a great way to move them to higher levels of comprehension. Perhaps most importantly, their answers allow you to adjust your lesson in real time so students don’t walk away from your class confused or frustrated.
For your students though, your questions can cause them anxiety, fear and even dread. So what can you do to help them feel at ease, but still get the information you want from them? The key to successful questioning is not only in the questions you ask, but also in the way you respond to their answers – especially incorrect answers.
Here are some important tips to remember as you respond to student answers to your questions:
- Remember their answers provide you valuable information – even when they are wrong. Right answers are tricky in Bible classes. Just because a student can recite the appropriate answer to a question, doesn’t mean the student actually understands what to do with that information or has a heart that even cares about the answer. Secular teachers learn that certain incorrect answers give valuable clues to what additional instruction, tutoring or mentoring a student may need. They can help you understand similar things with your students. Don’t just dismiss an answer as “wrong” and move onto another student. Make a mental note of what the incorrect answer was and what information it may give you about what that student needs.
- Don’t overreact. Sometimes student answers can be a bit shocking. Or funny. Or frustrating. The key is staying as calm as possible. If a student is trying to get attention by being funny or rude, your overreaction is going to encourage them to continue disrupting the class. Sometimes, you are rightfully shocked students don’t know faith basics in spite of what you thought were years of solid Bible teaching at home. If you slip and begin a strong reaction, pull it back as quickly as possible or make it a generic response: “Wow! You know, even I need to keep reviewing why it’s important to read our Bibles, so help me remember to keep talking about it in class.”
- Avoid critical language. It’s not helpful to tell students their answers are awful. It doesn’t encourage a child to keep trying when you accuse him of not paying close attention. You don’t have to lie and say an answer is right or great when it isn’t, but you don’t have to embarrass the student because it’s wrong. Whatever you do, never attack a student’s core being or attempt to mortify them on purpose. No good will ever come of that. If a student is being disrespectful, a quick, calm correction is fine. Just don’t take this as an opportunity to lecture or humiliate.
- Encourage the effort. Once again, don’t lie and imply an answer is correct or let an incorrect answer go uncorrected. You do, however, want to create an atmosphere where students want to try and answer questions even if they aren’t positive they know the correct answer. This is especially important because their incorrect answers will often give you more information than the correct answers will. “Great try!” “I can see why you think that, but actually…” “I always had a hard time remembering/understanding that at your age, too (If it’s true.)” and more create an atmosphere inviting student participation.
- Don’t be afraid to apologize. Sometimes incorrect answers are actually due to teacher error. Perhaps you were tired last week and got the details wrong, but don’t realize you did until a student points out their wrong answer is what you said. Or you forgot your learners were concrete thinkers and didn’t describe something in a away that they could process it accurately. Maybe you used words they couldn’t understand and so the message got confused for them. As soon as you realize an incorrect student answer was actually because you made a mistake – apologize – sincerely and profusely. It models repentance for students and shows students it’s okay to make a mistake, as long as you take personal responsibility for it and correct it if possible.
Your responses to how your students answer questions will give you the critical information you need to teach them in the ways they need to be taught. It’s worth the time and effort to respond intentionally to student answers.