What a crazy question “how to ask a math question?” – of course you just ask it! Well yes you could just fire away and ask math questions to quiz or test your child’s understanding but you want to make this most of the exercise of asking questions. What I have learned over many, many years of teaching math that “teaching” is part art and part science.
Moreover I learned that nothing is more important than experience when it comes to getting students to understand math. So indeed when I ask questions I’m doing so in a very specific manner looking for very specific feedback from the student. I put together some helpful guidelines for you to think about when you want to check for understanding by asking questions:
Always wait at least 3 -5 seconds for an answer. Now you may think you do wait this amount of time but trust me many of you are looking for an answer after 1 -2 sec. This is a common trait of inexperienced teachers and they to have to learn to wait longer- you will be shocked how quick most of us demand answers from our students. The point is you need to let your students relax and think about their answer. If you pressure them to answer fast then they start getting stressed and distracted making any answer they give suspect. So the next time you ask questions count in your head “one thousand one, one thousand two, etc” before you ask for a response. Believe me wait time not only gives your child time to think it keeps the learning environment positive and relaxed which is critical for excellent learning to take place. However the most important reason to use wait time is you will get better quality responses from your child when you ask them questions.
Basic Knowledge First
When you first question your child always start with basic fundamental questions. Let’s use an example about the topic of variables. A good starting question would be to write the number 3 and x on your board and ask the student “which one is the variable?”. Most students will point to the x- great. Now let’s say your child said that both 3 and x are both variables. Based on this answer you need to stop the questioning and review the basic concept of the lesson. Any more challenging questions on variables would be useless as your child did not indicate the most basic understating. Never assume your child has the most basic understanding of a concept just because you spent the last 45min learning it- welcome to the challenging world of teaching!
Open Ended Questions
Let’s continue with the example above. This time let’s say your child said “x” was the variable. The next series of questions should be more challenging as to test the child’s critical thinking. An example of a more challenging question could be “given the variables x and y” which one is better- explain. This type of question is open ended because the response requires an explanation. Your student could say something like “no one variable is better than the other they both equally represent a number”. Now a response like that would clearly show understanding of variables. As you continue to question your student keep increasing the level of difficulty of the questions so they practice critical thinking- this is the way they will achieve mastery of the skill.
After each response always provide positive feedback. If the answer is correct praise, praise, praise! Use statements like “great answer Julie- I can tell that you really understood the main points of the lesson”. Now if a student’s answers incorrectly don’t say “WRONG!”. Keep negativity far from your educational activities. A better response to an incorrect answer is “well Julie the answer is actually this- no problem, let’s make a note of this and go back and review”. Remember a student gets a lot of their confidence or math anxiety by the feedback they get from their teachers- so be careful what you say!
One of the most important things we do as teachers is ask questions. The entire point of this article was to stress the importance of thinking about how you ask questions before you actually engage the student. Furthermore asking great questions that get great responses is a skill. If you ever study master teachers you will clearly see that they are the best questioners developing a student’s understanding through answer/feedback.