Friday, May 30

No Stupid Questions! I am Serious! (Part 4)

Some people study all their life and at their death they have learned everything except to THINK
– Francois Domergue

A person who asks questions is a person who thinks.”’
- William Wilen

In this 5-part learning series, we have already looked at several teaching habits that could inspire students out of learning, such as speed-teaching, bragging, lack of engagement, and slide reading. In part four (4), we will explore a couple of teaching habits that could be quite destructive to the students' learning process.

First, I will project myself back-to-the-past to my high school days in Norway, and reflect a few learning experiences that I still can't get out of my head (Perhaps after sharing them with you, they can rest in peace on the web!). After that, I will reflect a few more incidents from my graduate days in Malaysia.

The thing about my schooling experience in Norway, whether it was primary, secondary or high school, is that many of my teachers seemed so miserable and frustrated with their lives. I kind of got the feeling that the majority of the teachers I experienced, never really wanted to be teachers, but became so, because they failed in their first choice careers. I hope that I am wrong about this (Faulty memory!) and that things have changed for the better at the schools I studied (Marienlyst and Ullern).

Let's transport myself back to the past...

I can't remember the name of the teacher, nor can I remember the subject that she taught (high school subject). However, I do remember that she would always come to class with a serious and angry face carrying a big sulk. It was as if she hated us (probably herself, too!). Her serious and angry face could wipe your smile off with the blink of an eye.

As for me, I dreaded going to her classes. Not only did she look serious and angry, she also had a great pleasure of giving us impromptu oral tests during classes. Although, I actually support these kinds of instructional approaches to encourage students to prepare for class, I believe she also had other hidden reasons for giving us such tests. She seemed to get pleasure out of giving us a BIG ZERO (out of 5, if I remember correctly!) when we couldn't answer her questions.

This is how it worked: She would ask a question in class, and then students would raise their right hand if they knew the answer. Nope, she would not pick any of the raised hands, but instead she would pick one student who didn't raise the hand. And obviously that student would struggle, or not be able to answer the question. Then she would suddenly decide that this is an impromptu oral test and write a big zero in her grade book. And naturally I would get a big zero the first couple of times, but then after a few classes I would raise my hand even if I didn't know the answer. It at least saved me from a few zeros.

So, naturally many students hated her guts, and wanted to take their own revenge in a less psychological damaging way! And one day a few students brought a quite big spider (Norwegian standards!) to class (I am not sure where it can from). They placed it on the top of the teacher's desk; smack in the middle. Although, I was not involved in this silly little prank, I did witness it. We all expected that the teacher would freak out and scream for help, but 'Oh Boy' were we wrong.

That day she came to class holding a book in her right hand. While walking towards her desk, she spotted the spider. She initially screamed a bit in a freakish manner, and then she lifted her book with both hands and slammed that spider several times until it was completely crushed and dead. Then she picked it up with a face of rage and disgust and walked to nearest classroom window. She opened the classroom window, and threw it out! After this incident she began the class as if it never happened.

"Who cares! People on 'Fear Factor' eat them alive all the time!" Yes, I also have a small phobia for spiders, and I really don't like them. But somehow for that spider I wouldn't have mind risking my phobia to save it. It was a bizarre moment and murder that I probably will never forget. So, next time you want to pull a prank on your annoying and serious teacher, think twice about using living creatures, because you never know. It is not worth the risk!

Dear spider, may you rest in peace! Hopefully, we can learn a lesson or two from this story.

Hopefully, the spider incident can rest in peace (from my mind!), and let's move on. For the next habit or behavior, I am not going to zoom in on a particular teacher, but reflect how destructive some teachers can be in discouraging students to ask questions without often realizing it (I suppose I am guilty, too!).

It is strange that I need to talk about this topic in the 21st century, but I still come across teachers or lecturers that would do all sorts of things or tricks to avoid questions in class. Is it their lack of preparedness for the topic that causes this? Or perhaps they are scared to lose control? Maybe, it is that fear of not knowing the answer to a question? Perhaps they don't want to put themselves in a position, which could make them look stupid? Or is it simply a cultural or authority issue that we can't do much about (except educate the next generation).

Here is a list of statements or questions to could discourage students from asking questions during class:
  • Please don't ask stupid questions!
  • That is a stupid question! Any other questions?
  • That was not a good question! Ask proper questions!
  • Anyone got a better question!
  • Haven't you read the book!
  • Please read the book before asking questions!
  • I don't entertain such questions! You can find the answer easily in the book!
  • I have already told you that! Aren't you listening!
  • Didn't I make that clear just know!
  • I just answered you that question!
  • Are you making fun of me!
  • What! How many times do I have to explain it, before you get it!
  • We don't have time for this question! Please find the answer on your own.
  • Think before you ask!
 These are some of the statements or questions that I experienced from some of my lecturers during my undergraduate and graduate studies in Malaysia. Don't get me wrong, I had many good lecturers during these years too, but this series is about the bad experiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, we should think a bit before making statements that might indirectly or directly discourage students from asking questions. If no one is asking questions in your class, you might actually be part of the problem. For example, some might argue that Malaysian students don't usually ask questions in class, or that they are happy with a one-way lecture approach. "No thinking required, just need to look awake! Anyway I got the slides, so there is no need to really listen."

However, all students have subject related questions, and I believe it is up to the lecturer to explore creative ways on how to encourage more students to ask these questions to facilitate the learning process. If you ask me, no matter how resistant students are to asking questions and participating in discussions, there are ways to overcome it. In short, if you are creative, passionate and encouraging you can unlock any student to ask questions.

Alright, I am not going to give you a written lecture of the importance and secret recipe of nurturing the students' mind to ask and reflect questions and ideas (Not qualified yet!). Instead, I will link you up with a few videos for you to reflect. The videos below are also excellent for stimulating discussion with your colleagues on how the world of technology, knowledge and learning is evolving, and the necessary changes we need to carry out to facilitate effective learning, and nurture the foundation for students to succeed in the 21st century. Here we go:
  • Shift Happens
    The impact of ICT and globalisation on education. It provides some interesting things to ponder regarding globalization and fast evolving changes we need to consider as we plan and prepare students for the future.
  • Pay Attention
    This presentation, simply entitled Pay Attention, was created by Darren Draper in an effort to motivate teachers to more effectively use technology in their teaching.
  • Five Minute University
    Father Guido Sarducci teaches what an average college graduate knows after five years from graduation in five minutes. A great video to facilitate discussion about effective learning with a bit of humor.
  • "Do Schools Kill Creativity"
    Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.
  • "Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Using Us"
    The evolution of knowledge creation, management and sharing in creative and stimulating way.
  • Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding
    A 19-minute award-winning short-film about teaching at the University. It shows examples of good and bad teaching, and promotes constructive alignment learning approach using Solo Taxonomy to test students' level of understanding (deep understanding?).
  • Five Minds for the Future
    Howard Gardner speaks about his book, Five Minds for the Future explaining why, in the future, it will be important to develop five kinds of minds, both in school and in other educational environments.
In addition to these interesting videos, here are a few sites that can stimulate some new ideas on how to facilitate effective learning in your course:
  • Route 21
    A one-stop-resource center for 21st century skills-related information, resources and community tools. You can even find videos here of 21st century skills in action in today’s classrooms.
  • New Horizons for Learning
    Presents articles and information on special issues in education, from restructuring schools to technology and adult education.
    A nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. You can find hundreds of interesting resources, research papers and articles exploring everything from Second Life to lecturing.
  • Creativity Techniques
    A central repository for Creativity and Innovation on the Internet by Mycoted with a summary of tools, techniques, mind exercises, puzzles, book reviews, etc. Concise, precise and easy to digest. I love it!
  • Mind Tools
    More than 100 free essential life, career training and management training skill-builder articles and tools to explore.
  • Successful Learning - This e-book discusses philosophies of learning, thinking skills, presentations skills, learning strategies, e-Learning, motivation, reading/writing skills and learning styles. Published by CDTL, National University of Singapore.
  • Brain Rules
    12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist, shares his lifelong interest in how the brain sciences might influence the way we teach our children and the way we work.
  • Critical Thinking Web
    Provides over 100 free online tutorials on critical thinking, logic, scientific reasoning, creativity, and other aspects of thinking skills. This site is maintained by Dr. Joe Lau at the Philosophy Department, The University of Hong Kong.
  • Critical Evaluation Tookit
    Griffith University provides tips on helping students to develop critical evaluation skills.
  • Argumentation and Critical Thinking Tutorial
    The tutorials consist of a series of tests to help reinforce your knowledge and understanding of some basic concepts associated with making arguments and thinking critically (Humboldt State University).
  • Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent
    Of all the challenges you face as a superintendent, technology leadership may be the one that leaves you feeling the most unprepared, uncertain and vulnerable. This site provides you with a lot of valuable resources and ideas on how to deal with it.
  • Interactive Thinking Tools
    Intel provides online tools designed to promote higher-order thinking in any subject. Each tool features an online workspace where students create and save visual representations of their thinking.
  • CoRT & Six Thinking Hats
    Two wonderful thinking tools by Edward de Bono, which we can use in the classroom, at work, or any place where we need to collaboratively solve problems, make decisions, and nurture innovative ideas.
  • Work-Learning Research
    Dr. Will Thalheimer's goal has been to compile research from the world's preeminent refereed journals and translate that research with practical wisdom to help learning professionals create more effective learning. Check it out!
  • WebQuest
    Is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web.
Finally, here is an article I wrote a couple of months back entitled: Coaching Critical Thinking to Think Creatively!, which might also be useful.

"Take your course seriously! Take course preparation seriously! Take learning seriously! Take assessment seriously! Take your students seriously! But don't take yourself so seriously!" - Zaid Ali Alsagoff

Better yet, have fun making fun of yourself during class, and make it a point that we all do mistakes. Anyway, the greatness of a lecturer or a leader is not whether he or she does a mistake (surely will!), but how he or she responds to it. If you are not doing any mistakes or failing once a while, you are perhaps not trying hard enough. Finally, celebrate students who ask you questions, even if you don't know the answer. Not only will they inspire you to learn and get a deeper understanding of the subject, they will also nurture you to become a better lecturer.

We all say funny things and ask stupid questions in our short life on this planet, but if we learn from them and move on we might just... :)

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy."-Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."-Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
-Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
-H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
- Bill Gates, 1981

"If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it."
- Albert Einstein


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