The amount a teacher says is not necessarily directly proportional to the amount of learning effected. Students need time to formulate and articulate an answer. It is important, therefore, to make a conscious effort to provide ‘wait time’, not only after asking a question but also after an answer has been volunteered, as there may be more to come.2
Don’t be the first to answer every question, especially those asked by yourself. Refrain from commenting after a response if there are others answering. Let them have their say first.
Invite, verbally or non-verbally (e.g. eye contact), the others in the group to react to a question or a response made by one of them.
Acknowledge students answers
Reassure and encourage students by nodding, praising a good answer, building on an answer, by referring where relevant in the subsequent discussion to a point or points made in an answer.
Deal with incorrect or partially incorrect answers constructively
Criticism is discouraging but obviously an incorrect answer cannot be accepted. The ‘yes...but’ reaction may be used to some extent, especially with partially correct answers, but some restraint must be exercised in its use, or it may lead students to think that their answers are inadequate and invariably need to be rectified, qualified or definitively endorsed by the teacher.
Some possible reactions may be to:
Guard against unwittingly putting down a student
In the unequal teacher-student relationship, students may be more than usually sensitive to criticism. What is perceived as a put-down may put him/her off trying again and risking further humiliation.
Restate complex or inaudible questions
Alternatively, ask another member of the group to do so. This not only clarifies but also turns an individual’s question into ‘group property’.
Put a question back to the person who asked it by a counter or prompting question, e.g. “What do you think?” or “What do you mean by...?” Or turn the question over to another student: “..., how would you answer that question?”
I dont know
For many of us, however, this is perhaps one of the most difficult responses, especially when we really do not know. There are certain psychological and sociological factors—perhaps more so with the Asian inclination to ‘save face’ which contributes to our reluctance to confess to inadequate knowledge. Despite the difficulty, it is arguably better to admit that you do not know the answer. Students respect honesty and complaints are unlikely if you indicate your willingness to find the answer and get it back to them at the next meeting. You could also call on the help of another member of the group, or the group as a whole might try to work out the answer.
But even when we do know, feigning ignorance may sometimes be a good move as it may serve to encourage students to be more involved in and to take responsibility for their own learning.
This is offered NOT as an endorsement of deviousness, evasiveness and irresponsibility, but as a reminder that answering questions is not always a sacred obligation and that, in some instances, more may be achieved by not answering questions, thereby redirecting the questioner to attempt finding the answer for himself or herself.