I recently came across an article suggesting that we as educators are hindering students ability to learn because we are answering too many of their questions in class. I remember the days of being a college student and asking practical questions on the expected margin width of a paper or when my final exams were scheduled. This information was almost always located on the syllabus or school website but when panic sets in, there was an unsettling urgency to find answers. My personal belief is that anyone who wanted to succeed in college felt this urgency at some point or another. Typically, students who feel the necessity to ask countless questions either are very curious learners or lack the confidence necessary to locate the information themselves.
This poses the question are we as educators enabling students by giving them immediate answers to every inquiry? “For the most part, college students enrolled in beginning chemistry courses do not, during laboratory-based experiences, learn to follow directions. Instead they learn to depend excessively upon oral directions presented by the instructor in response to their queries.” (p. 103).
While this does hold some truth that we as educators do not want to enable students to always receive an easy answer – learning atrophy takes place – I pose the question that if students are expected to learn in a new learning environment, are we as educators displacing trust by not answering their questions?
When I expect my students to be engaged in a service-learning activity, I challenge them using a manifold of reflection questions that employs critical thinking in their search for an answer. As their instructor, these reflection questions compel students to ask questions. If I do not connect the learning with service in this manner, students unequivocally bypass a powerful opportunity to discover the connection between their personal lives and the learning objective.
Hosting an assumption that we are hindering a learning lesson by not answering our students questions only creates an environment that lacks trust and rapport between teacher and student. This opens new issues of students disrupting the class or learning experience to ask other students questions or vent their frustrations to their peers. These actions may play into a domino effect and result in students stirring up irrational fears or uncertainty in their ability to be successful in college. If the number one retention tool for keeping a student in college from the time they enroll to graduation is a strong sense of community, would it not be an oxymoron to suggest that educators should let students figure it out themselves?
Reference: Hilosky, A., Sutman, F., and Schmuckler, J. (1998). Is laboratory-based instruction in beginning college-level chemistry worth the effort and expense? Journal of Chemical Education, 75