Questions students should be asking

This is a pre-post, as I am on PTO this week

Learning is, by nature, an uncomfortable experience. You are trying to become knowledgeable about something you do not already know. That might manifest in any of the following: remembering key dates, facts, theories, or concepts;  linking some ideas to others; building hypotheses; drawing conclusions; running an experiment; building or creating something; using your body to create art. Students experience that kind of learning in the classroom, labs, and studios all the time.

But there is another important part of education that takes place internally, and is linked to student development theory. Part of students’ intellectual journey is moving from a place where they receive information and accept it on face value, to evaluating facts and beliefs for themselves in an independent, discerning way.

So part of students’ education is questioning. What do I know? What are my opinions on X or Y? Have I ever challenged those opinions? What might I think now that I have new or different information than I had before? Someone else believes something other than I do – are they right and I’m wrong, or are we both right (or wrong)? You get the idea.

Questioning can be particularly helpful when a student confronts information or concepts they find surprising, difficult, troubling, upsetting – or when their beliefs are challenged – in or out of class. These reflective questions were offered by one of my faculty in graduate school, Dr. Jewell Cooper at UNC-Greensboro; the questions were very helpful in framing how we reacted to course material we found challenging:

What I experienced:

I learned that I….

I relearned that I…

I realized that I…

I noticed that I…

I discovered that I…

I was surprised that I…

I was displeased that I….

I was [insert your own adjective] that I…

The goal in these statements is to express your personal feelings – not making it overly intellectual or overly general. In other words, make your statement, but don’t try to defend it or explain it – just say what you experienced.

As students reflect on their experiences, that can help bring some clarity to their ideas and their feelings. And when we stop to take the time to think about why something troubles us – what is the nerve it has touched within us, and why? – we become better able to think critically and discern our perspective the next time. 

It’s all part of the learning process.


— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

Categories: the daily deac

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