Dr. Rich Patterson

Do You Ask Good Questions?

I have a friend who is a national expert on assessment.  You know the assessment as used in schools for kids to determine their level of student achievement.  I took a class from him once and during a break I noticed that he was talking with one of the adult students in the class.  He was asking her a questions about assessment.  Interesting I thought, because he knew more about assessment than most people, yet he was asking her a question, most likely to make her think about her own practice.  Even though he could have just as easily shared with her best practice for various types of assessment, he asked her a question to gain her insights.

I never forgot that observation and forever have held it as a best practice to use.  How many times I have been ready to make a statement about something and instead decided to ask a question.  After asking the question I frequently receive an answer that gives me additional information that I didn’t have.  Often changing the statement that I was about to make.  Talk about being glad I asked a question rather than making a statement.  As a student in class, are you sometimes hesitant to ask a question because you feel that you’re the only one that doesn’t know?  I know I was when I was younger.  So many times I worked in frustration trying to figure something out that I could have just raised my hand and asked during the class discussion, making the work much easier.  Now I realize, and want to pass on to you, that very likely the question that you have, others have as well.  So ask it!  And if they don’t, so what!  It doesn’t matter, you have your understanding and it seem incomplete so ask a question.

I recently was doing some personal coaching with a high tech CEO and we were working on communication.  The focus for our session was how to start conversations with people.  I suggested to him that he ask them a question.  He was surprised like he had only done that a few times.  It works great, when you ask someone a question, you’re asking for their thinking on something.  It is a compliment because it says, I want to hear what you have to say.  It doesn’t matter if it is a subject that you already know quite a bit about.  Ask them as if you don’t know and notice how they explain something.  What stories do they use from their own life that add insight to knowing them better.

Asking good questions is a life pursuit for educators.  It is a skill that we’re always sharpening and getting better at, yet somehow never arriving.  The next time you want to start a conversation, or don’t understand something, ask a question.  You might be surprised at what you hear, enlightening your own understanding.  See the next post on types of questions.