Instructors need to learn how to properly answer a questions and the delivery of their response if they want to maintain open communications with their learners and not discourage future questions from being asked. It is vitally important that instructors develop a sense of openness in the classroom. This openness will develop communications not only between the instructor and learners, but between the learners. Poorly trained instructors can quickly shut this openness and communications down by the way they answer questions when asked. If a learner feels that his or her question was not answered or worse that he asked a ‘stupid’ question, then they will not want to contribute any further.
Below are some tips to the instructor on answering questions to ensure this open dialog continues:
Brief you expectation on asking questions at the beginning of the course– Let the student’s know that if they have a question, to raise their hand or write the question down for later. Make sure the learners realize that there are no ‘stupid’ questions.
Listen to the question carefully for both content and intent- There are situations where students may put the instructor ‘on-the-spot’ and ask an irritating question to discredit your subject matter expertise. Well trained instructors will recognize this and will turn the question back to the class for an answer without giving showing emotion.
Always repeat the questions so the entire class can hear- It doesn’t matter how large the class is or the size of the class room, you have to paraphrase the question being asked. By paraphrasing it allows the entire class to think about the questions and mentally formulate their own answers.
Turn a ‘Why’ question into a ‘How’ question– Sometimes when a learners asks a question that starts with Why it can place people on the defensive, a good instructor will take this question and treat it as a How question. For instance a student could ask “Why would you perform this maintenance procedure this way?” This can make people defensive on why they perform this procedure. Take this question and rephrase it as “How would you perform this maintenance question?”
Be careful when paraphrasing a question- Do not use phrases such as “what you are trying to say is….” or “what you mean is…” This can come across as very condescending.
If you don’t know the answer, admit it and follow up – there is no way an instructor can be prepared for 100% of the questions learners might ask. Therefore if you are asked a question that you don’t know, state it, write it down, look up the answer during a break and then provide the answer at the next available moment.
Redirect the question to the entire class for an answer- This is especially helpful if the answer to a question needs experience instead of knowledge recall. For instance a student may ask “does this procedure work well out in the field vice the lab?” this is a perfect time to tap into the other students experience and open a discussion. Maybe some of the learners have used this procedure successfully, while others have not.
Keep your answers short and to the point- If the instructor does off on a 10 minute diatribe to answer a question, chances are that the learners will forget what the original question was!
Always ask if you answered the question!- Make sure that you have answered a learner’s question by asking “did I answer your question?” Watch the student’s body language and facial expressions when the he or she answers. The student’s body language will let you know if he or she is satisfied with your response.
By following some of these basic techniques for answering question, instructors will help build an open environment where learners can communicate and feel free to ask questions.