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!
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....