“What do you think?” For most students, there is no question more enervating than this one. In reality, Fernando is thinking about Natalia’s rear end, Leticia is thinking about red shoes, and Amelia is wondering if her hair should really be so pink. The teacher is referring to the North Pole, to a week in the desert, to a flight to outer space. “What do you think?” Think what?!
Let’s get more specific. Look at the paragraph on page 94. “Most people start a diet on the first day of the week.” So, asks the teacher, on what day did Mary probably start her weight-loss program? Monday, teacher. Great! Is that enough thinking for the day? How many minutes are left in this class, anyway…..
Is it hot or cold in the Amazon? Hot, teacher. Is Florida north of the equator; yes or no? Yes, teacher. What do you think about the architecture in Brasilia? Think what?
Questions that are too broad or too narrow are really a dead-end with regard to inducing extensive thinking or communicating. “Thinking” is usually best fueled by substance, in the form of reasoning, figuring out, relating to experience. For example, among the classes which are a requirement for people wanting to obtain a driver’s license, there is one session devoted to small-group discussion of contentious traffic situations described by the teacher on printed handouts. In this case, “what do you think” sparks a heated exchange between persons who have experience these or similar situations, who know others who also have, whose speculations and opinions are percolating with reciprocal mental energy in the buildup of accelerating reactions among the participants. This is thinking.
Yes/No questions, queries which ask for a fact or statistic, all have their place in classroom work, in the daily constructs of communication. But they do not usually result in the extent or complexity of thought – hopefully, expression – which the teacher has in mind when he envisions students in the process of interested reaction to stimulation of thought. Some questions inspire furtive, repeated attention to the movement of the minute hand on the clock on the wall. On the other hand, effective thought-provoking strategies can open up fields of mental/verbal exploration that will result in looks of surprise and slight frustration when the bell rings. Already, teacher?