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Ask specific questions

The easiest question to ask a class is “Any questions so far?”. This rarely produces an answer. Some people tell me that they have a better response with framing this to indicate that questions are expected: “What are your questions?” or “What questions do you have?” for example.

Similarly, I’ve given up asking at the end of the course “What do you want me to go over in the revision session?” since some wag usually says “everything”, we all chuckle and that ends the matter.

To encourage a response I have found that it is better to ask specific questions, “Are you happy with affine transformations?”, “Do you understand equivalence relations?” The prompt forces them to consider something concrete and it reminds them of what they have been taught.

This method can work at any time of the course. “Which exercises are you having trouble with” can be replaced “Do you have trouble with question 6?” The latter forces students to focus. They either do or don’t have a problem with it. I usually pick a question which they will benefit from discussing so even if students are just saying yes to get on with the tutorial at least it will be productive.

In summary: Vague general questions are the enemy. Make questions specific!

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