Laughing at my own jokes

Continuing from the last entry, on the subject of teaching, someone wrote this to me in an email:

Oh, and you could ask them leading questions! Doesn’t matter if you answer them yourself, because you’d have made your kids start to think. Nevermind if students think you’re just answering your own questions. I find questions are good ‘flags’ for what’s important.

This had never occurred to me before. I have been trying to make sure that someone else answers my questions. I fear that if I answer my own questions, and especially if I get in the habbit of doing so, the girls will get lazy knowing that I am going to do it, and they will not engage their own brains. I have the feeling at the moment that I am asking them to do something they are completely unused to: answering questions to which they have not rehersed the correct answer from their notes. It involves thinking. I have told them to answer saying “I’m not sure but I think …”, and I have tried to make sure I appreciate every answer equally since I am happy to get wrong answers. The thing I like best is answers that reveal thought, whether right or wrong.

So I ask you, reader, do you think its would be helpful for me to answer my own questions? Pleased leave a comment on this entry and let me know what you think.

This morning I used an old teaching trick: ask the same question as a few minutes ago but in a different way. I had asked “What is a GET request” in the context of Javascript and the world-wide web. Nobody answered. I asked if they had done this in earlier lessons — they have all done web design classes at least, where they ought to have mentioned this subject. I was still not sure. I asked if anyone had heard of the GET request and three ladies put up their hands nervously to half-mast as if to say “yes I have done it but I am not prepared to answer an question on it”. So I drew a couple of computers on the boad, and a cloud for the internet. Labled them client and server and asked what the software was called on each of them. Then I described the fact that the browser software on the client sends a request to the server software asking for a particular web page, and the server sends the HTML content of that page back to the browser so it can render it on the screen. I drew arrows accross the cloud for the request and the html response. Then I pointed to the request arrow and asked “What is this called?”, pause, “What is the name we give to the request the browser sends to the server?”. Long pause. So I told them that I had just re-asked a question from earlier in a different way. One of them got it and promptly put up her hand. She smiled when she answered: “the GET request”.

It feels like a psychological game; as if were I to answer my own question they would just sit and stare blankly at me. So far I have been adamant about answers to questions. Each time, after rephrasing a question a couple of times and looking expectaltly at the class, I will pause in silence and watcht them tryint to avoid eye-contact with me. Then I will tell them what I see (that they are trying to avoid my eyes) and state that this is not goging to help and then ask the question again. These sielnt pauses could go on for ages. They simply will not answer. So it becomes a battle of wills. I have taken to calling out names from the register and asking for answers, just as a way of getting things going again, or else we would spend most of the lesson in silence. And I have been doing it to establish the precident that my questions are to be taken seriously and to be answered. I am hoping that in this way they will be more inclined to answer in future. I fear that by answering my own questions I will undermine my own seriousness in future.

But maybe there is something in it. Maybe it would work: make them think, internally, even if they aren’t brave enough to answer voluntarily. Before I try it, as a technique, I want to know what you guys think.

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