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Questions: What have you done so far?

Students will always need help with problems and exercises that are set.* When a student asks me for help with a particular problem, then I have a go-to question for them: “What have you done so far?”.

I learned this from Bill Bruce when I was his Research Assistant many years ago. It’s a great question because it stops me launching in to an explanation only to discover that the student already knows that part of the solution — my students are generally quite polite (lucky me!) and tend not to interrupt me in full flow. It forces them to think rather than rely on me.

Quite often the reply is “Nothing. I don’t even know where to start”. Even that is useful information and once oriented to what they do or don’t know I can begin follow up questions “Do you know how to do X?”, “Can you break Y it into parts?”, or “What do we know about Z?”.

* If they don’t, then the questions need to be a little bit harder!

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