Three Types of Questions

Peter Liljedahl:

Students only ask three types of questions: (1) proximity questions – asked when the teacher is close; (2) stop thinking questions – most often of the form “is this right”; and (3) keep thinking questions – questions that students ask so they can get back to work. Only the third of these types should be answered. The first two need to be acknowledged, but not answered.

[via Dylan Kane]

Featured Comment

Scott:

When my students ask “Is this right?” or express uncertainty about their answer I like to ask them what their confidence level is. 25%? 50%? 75%? etc… If it’s less than 50% then I ask them why they are unsure. If it’s over 50% then I ask them what gives them confidence.

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I’m Dan and this is my blog. I’m a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

9 Comments

  1. I would argue that even the third type of questions don’t always need to be answered. My favorite thing to do is answer a question with a question to make students keep thinking so as not let me do their thinking for them.

  2. I also like to answer questions with questions and guide them along.

    Eventually, I just tell them to ask themselves “what would Mrs K say to me?” and they find that they are asking the same guiding questions that I do.

  3. I like to turn students to their peers for those questions, so they become less dependent on me, and more dependent on each other. What are some other good ways to respond to question types 1 & 2?

  4. When my students ask “Is this right?” or express uncertainty about their answer I like to ask them what their confidence level is. 25%? 50%? 75%? etc… If it’s less than 50% then I ask them why they are unsure. If it’s over 50% then I ask them what gives them confidence.

  5. This is hard for me. I am a brand new classroom teacher, though I’ve been tutoring for a while. A month ago, I would have agreed with this position and in fact already followed its advice for the most part. But a week before school started, I found out I would be teaching English Language Learners. Some of my students can understand what I say, but many have only 50 or so words in English. I have a lot of trouble distinguishing between the “is this right?” that means “do I have permission zone out?” and the “is this right?” that means “did I understand you correctly?”
    To make it even more challenging (because having 30 students for the first time isn’t challenging enough), answering a question with a question (my favorite way to respond) seems to mostly cause the students to stare at me blankly and then give up because they don’t understand what I’m saying.

  6. Two rules I try to teach by:

    1. Never say anything a kid can say. (Great NCTM article, BTW)
    2. (Almost) always answer a question with a question.

    Since my kids sit at tables with other kids, I almost always redirect an “is this right” question to another student at the table. I also ask questions like:
    What do you know about this problem?
    What is the problem asking you to do?
    How do you know?
    What do you have so far?
    Why do you think that … ?
    What, specifically, are you struggling with?
    Did you check in with ____ about that question?
    This is not an exhaustive list. Some questions just come in the moment or the context. But these ones are always in my head.

    My job is to facilitate learning, not to always give “the answer.” I think about funneling questions vs. focusing question as discussed in Principles to Actions.

  7. Hello, I am a student in a math secondary education program. I love all the ideas about answering students’ questions with a question of your own, however I think that always doing this as a rule can be dangerous and may cause some students to get upset and shut down. I also like the idea of making it a classroom norm to ask 2-3 other students (maybe their group, if the setting permits) before asking the teacher. This would have positive effects on the groups learning and likely increase the likelihood of genuinely good questions. I am wondering if this is something people have tried in their classrooms and whether they have found it to be useful or not? Let me know what you think. Thanks!

  8. I’m uncertain whether (1) should be listed as a separate question type. Yes, sometimes students ask questions only when I get near them — as evidenced by the numbers of questions that magically pop up whenever I walk around the room during a test — but then the types of questions that students ask would be either something like (2) or like (3), no? I guess what I’m saying is does it matter where I’m standing in the room as to what particular question type gets asked? And how can I know /for sure/ whether a student would have asked that question anyway even if I had been farther away?