Ask questions!

In most ways I have a great group of freshmen this year. I’m teaching two large sections of Honors Geometry — filled with bright, attentive, perfectly behaved freshmen who do their work and stay engaged in class! I suppose this is a “count your blessings” situation; what more could I possibly want?

Well…just one thing, actually: Ask questions! Some of these freshmen — but not nearly enough — do ask questions outside of class. But very few do so in class. Even outside of class it’s nothing like last year, where the Math Department office always saw a bunch of freshman every period who had signed out of study hall to do their geometry work in the department office and ask questions of me or other teachers. One of the great things about the culture of Weston’s Math Department is that we not only do planning and grading in teams but also cheerfully help each other’s students. This year’s freshmen, however, seem to reluctant to follow in that path. Since they also are reluctant to ask questions in class, they are left to cope with this very demanding course on their own. The transition from middle school to high school is difficult enough without being left alone in their first honors-level high school math class. The adjectives I used in my first paragraph above (“bright, attentive, perfectly behaved,…engaged”) show you that I’m much more pleased than displeased with this group, but something has to be done about the unwillingness to ask questions and seek help.

Before we find a solution, however, we have to get a better handle on what the problem is. So I gave both of my sections an anonymous questionnaire in which I asked them how they get help, whether they ask questions, and why they don’t (if in fact they don’t):

There were four particularly interesting results. One was that 56% of these students say they get help from a parent or sibling! Remember now that these are teenagers, and that this is a challenging honors-level geometry class. So this is an impressive statistic.

Also, 22% claim that they do ask questions in class. Maybe that’s so (I’m not keeping count), but it doesn’t match my perception of reality.

Also, 38% get help from classmates, and that’s great. We strongly encourage doing that, as it’s a useful life skill and it’s also a practical necessity when a section contains 24 kids and one teacher.

Perhaps most interesting is that 29% wrote something in the open-response area for the very last statement. Here’s the complete list, in no particular order:

  • I’m shy.
  • Nobody else does (2).
  • No reason.
  • The teacher might not answer.
  • It will delay the class.
  • The teacher goes too fast.
  • My questions are not very important
  • I’m not sure what to ask.
  • I’m afraid of follow-up questions.
  • It’s hard to follow what the teacher talks about.
  • Sometimes I don’t know how to communicate.
  • I need to know all the information before I can ask a question.

I made some comments to the class about these responses, but I think I’ll let the readers of this blog form their own conclusions.

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston