So, what is the correct answer?

We teachers undoubtedly have our favourite catch-phrases - word combinations we say so often that they finally become ridiculous or irritating for those who notice the recurring pattern. If we are unaware of them, we needn't worry because our students, especially the young ones, always let us know; for example they quite 'inadvertently' echo what we've just said. I remember a student who really liked my What else? question, much so that she couldn't help repeating it whenever she heard me utter it. I obviously told her to stop doing it because I considered it rather provocative (she was cute but I could tell from her intonation and facial expression how much she enjoyed aggravating me). Nevertheless, she, in effect, made me think about classroom discourse in more depth. 

We'll all agree that questions are good. Questions asked by students are even better; their presence implies that learning takes place. However, there are types of questions which I'd rather not hear. I find it quite irritating, for example, when a student asks the very same question that another student asked just a couple of seconds ago. This usually happens when we are using the coursebook doing a comprehension check exercise. At first sight, repeating the same question is a clear sign of a lack of attention on the student's part. Even if it happens incidentally (yes, I suspect that some students like to be in the centre of attention), it is ultimately more or less embarrassing for the inattentive student because it invariably incites laughter in the class. My teacher self hates this type of situation since it prolongs the activity and thus causes even more disruption. However, if this happens more than once during the same task, it is obviously an indication that the exercise is not engaging enough and thus the students have a problem staying alert. 

But even students' own questions can be a real nuisance, for example questions which are totally off topic. Imagine the following situation: you're patiently waiting for an answer (or a question, for that matter), when all of a sudden a hand shoots up. You are grateful, happy, over the moon, on cloud nine... because you know that it was a tough task. So you gently and thankfully point to that student only to hear: Can I go to the restroom, please? I simply don't get it - the student knew that I was expecting something else, yet he asked this silly question which might well have waited a few seconds or minutes. Maybe he interrupted the silence on purpose - whatever his motivation was. Perhaps he only took advantage of the slot; he thought it was the most appropriate moment to ask this question and it was really urgent. Or maybe it's fun to disconcert the teacher from time to time. I don't know. A variation of the restroom question is Can I go and throw this in the trash bin? Aaarrrggghhh!   

There's one question that really gets on my nerves though; I actually consider this the most annoying question of all. It is sometimes asked when we do a really challenging task and I don't want to provide the right answer straight away; I want my students to come to a conclusion for themselves. So in an attempt to let critical thinking flood the classroom, I ask around, leave some space for alternatives, nod in agreement but indicate that I want to hear more, when all of a sudden a student (barely looking at me, with her pen right above the paper, ready to record the ultimate, final words of me THE TEACHER) asks: So, what is the correct answer? You should see me at that moment - I give that student a hostile look and although I'm not proud of it, I must confess that I usually say something pretty sarcastic about me not being there to bring answers on a silver plate.  

I already know what makes me feel and act the way I do - it's the implicit impatience with which the question is normally asked. Also, it's the accusing type of intonation that really bugs me. I somehow take it for granted that students take into account all the alternatives and choose the one they think is the best. But don't I ask too much of them? Are they capable of doing it at all? Are they trained to do it? Worse still, aren't they, in some cases, actually trained against doing it? What I think would really help is asking myself: what are the motives for asking this question? The students may be confused having heard so many alternatives. They may crave some kind of closure. They hate to be left doubtful. They just need to fill in the gap, be it in their notebooks or in their neural connections. 

I guess I've asked too many questions in this post. I'll leave here because I feel I need to answer some of them in my head first before coming up with more....