“Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom.” – Chip Bell on Socratic teaching
I always take some time at the beginning of a new year or new session to discuss my expectations and procedures for a class of dance students. That bit of talk is essential to a smooth start and a good time for all.
Equally essential is finding a way to get my students to open up about their own expectations, goals, and interests regarding the class. Socrates believed that asking the right questions leads to truth and that listening and watching carefully to the meaning behind the answers is much more important than talking.
The right questions are usually open-ended.
These require the students to elaborate, rather than give a yes or no.
Many times I ask my questions informally but on occasion for my college and teen classes, I have them write down answers to hand in or to place in their journal.
I usually ask them:
- Why are you taking dance (or this class)?
- What are your goals for this year (or semester)?
- Who are your favorite musicians (or what is your favorite type of music)?
- In what other hobbies or activities are you involved?
These questions typically give me helpful information about my students. I use their answers to adapt my instruction or methods to better suit and motivate them.
However, I’ve been thinking about other possible questions that might prove interesting and informative. Here are a few that I’ve come up with:
- How does dancing make you feel?
- Where or how do you see yourself using what you learn in this class 5 years from now (or 10 or 20)?
- Which dancer(s) do you most like to watch and why?
- When are the times during dance classes (or other classes) that you typically notice your attention wandering to other things? How do you bring yourself back? (Or, what is usually the most boring part of your dance classes and why?)
- What is one dance-related thing that you’d love to be able to do right now?
- How do you usually react when you have to wait for something that you really, really want?
Most of these questions could work for almost any age-group if rephrased appropriately.
Written vs. Verbal
Sometimes I get more candid answers in a discussion during which everyone is ‘pooling’ their reasons. I’ve written verbal answers on a white board, for example, and taken a snapshot of it so that I can refer to it later.
The drawback to group discussion is that I may not always hear from the quieter or more inhibited class members.
Asking students to submit their answers in written form means I hear from each of them equally.
However, written answers in a survey can feel a little like a test for some students – the answers may be a bit stilted or seem like the students are telling you what they think you want to hear.
For this reason, assigning or even taking a few moments during class to have students pen a journal entry, has sometimes proven effective. This assignment can be presented as something ‘for them’ (and less of a survey ‘for me’), however students might be asked to share something of what they wrote with the group.
In my class of college students this semester, I’ve asked them to turn in a journal-style essay addressing some of the questions above and stressed that, while I expect it to be well-written, that the content can be personal or individual, even conversational.
Typically what I know about the students’ level of familiarity or comfort with one another has given me a hint about which way to go with my “survey”. But what works best for one teacher or class may not work best for another.