Handling Overzealous Student Questions

It’s the end of my semester, and students are understandably stressed out about getting all of their final projects finished on time. This stress sometimes means that they’re full of questions about such nuts-and-bolts issues as assignment requirements, deadlines, and methods. And often the answers to those questions are right there on the assignment sheets I’ve created or they’re about to be shared by me in class as we discuss the assignments in question.

But what do you do when you start class and students keep raising their hands with questions that you’re just about to answer through your introductory lecture? This happened to me last week in one class, and I decided to stop and answer each question as it arose. As a result, I later found out, students ended up confused about some of the key details. (Fortunately, we were able to resolve that confusion before it was too late.)

In the next class session, I tried a different approach: The first words out of my mouth were “How many of you have questions?” Almost every hand went up. “Okay, take out a piece of paper and write them all down.” After about five minutes, I started class and explained everything that I had to explain that day. If a student raised a hand, I asked them to add their question to the piece of paper in front of them. When I was finished talking, I asked how many of them still had questions. Only two hands went up, and I was able to answer their questions quickly. Every other question had been answered through my planned introductory remarks.

I’ll be sure to do this again when faced with a similar situation. It’s important for students to have their questions answered, but it’s also important to focus their attention on the very sources of information that will answer those questions.

How about you? What strategies do you have for handling overzealous student questions?

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Gareth Simpson]

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