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I teach a group of bright students who will interrupt the material presentation with questions that will be answered in the next slide or sentence. I appreciate that they are thinking ahead but I have times when I just need to get the information out there and then discuss it when everyone has had time to process.

What advice can you give me? What are best practices for this?

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    Are these questions coming from all of the students in the class or just one or two? I've known students who would consistently ask those questions more to show the instructor how bright they are than because they are interested in the answer. For the others in the class who also know the answer and know its coming up in the next slide, those guys get annoying really quick. – The Photon Nov 4 '13 at 18:26
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    Coming from the students perspective, sometimes we ask because we're not sure what direction you're headed and don't want to wait until the question is no longer relevant. – agweber Nov 4 '13 at 21:05
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    From the perspective of another student. I have lots of questions that I want to ask my professor but I wait till the end of class and I think you should encourage your students to do the same. Sometimes, some students are really excited about something and they wanna know the answer now but if you explain to them that most of their questions will be answered by the end then they will understand and if not, then you can just ask them to follow up at the end. It saves you time and other students who are really aren't interested. – Jeel Shah Nov 4 '13 at 21:37
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    As a suggestion, maybe tell students to write down questions so they won't forget, then wait until the end of class to ask. This both solves your problem and helps them learn the material as writing is known to increase retention ability. EDIT: You may also want to create appropriate intervals for questions throughout the class. – MirroredFate Nov 4 '13 at 23:43
  • I don't think there are ever times when you "just need to get the information out there". What I think you mean is that there is information there that they or other students may still be missing and that you don't want to skip. Well, you can just say that. Jumping depth-first through the material in reply to questions would quickly produce chaos. I'm sure they understand that, too. So it's perfectly fine to say "hold that thought, I'm coming to that in a minute". – reinierpost Nov 5 '13 at 13:00
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Another option that I saw once and I thought was, frankly, pretty great:

In my Introduction to Logic class my professor taught from Powerpoint slides, and the slide was divided into two sections, the main section on the left, and a small column on the right. The column on the right was titled "Questions You Probably Have" and was exactly that. Underneath each question in bold it either said "Next slide!" or "Ask me!" And so, inevitably, people would ask the "Ask Me!" questions and he would click the "Ask me!" link and it would jump to a tangential slide and he would go into the details.

And if someone asked him something not on the slide, he would always say, "Great question!", give the questioner a bonus point on the next exam (even though he did this no one abused it, I'm sure he had a plan if they had, but it was another amazing thing he did), And as he answered it he would scribble a few notes. Before the next class, he would show us the new slide he'd created (or the new text in the next slide) for that question and ask us if it made sense now.

Basically, as a shortcut method it covered all three of the core issues this sort of thing entails:

  1. "Here's what's coming up next."
  2. "Yes, yes, you are very clever for thinking of that."
  3. Getting a coherent lesson together that encourages feedback.

Also, it was kind of meta and spooky when the slides really would predict questions I'd have, when really it was just the material presented itself the same to hundreds of other people before me.

  • 1
    Darn it! No more LaTeX? – Simon Kuang Jun 25 '14 at 21:02
  • @SimonKuang You could do it just as well in LaTeX. – JAB May 9 '17 at 1:21
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I think it is good to have students feel free to ask questions. I often get similar question in lectures and just answer by either moving to the next slide and continue the lecture with a "good question, I was just getting to that" or "good question, I will get to that in a moment". The result of that is hopefully that students get more and more comfortable with you covering material and with that security questions may actually decrease over time. yes, it is frustrating some times but it means the students are concentrating on your lecture and that is really what you want so don't change.

One can of course ask oneself what is causing the questions. Is it that the material could be presented in a better way (order). use the comments to reflect on the way you present the material and try to see if you can "defuse" such questions by some re-organization.

One practical matter is to make sure your present the core points first before discussing how you arrive there. Then the route will be more clear and the wait for the culmination avoided. I am of course not certain this is valid in your case but you can consider approaching the train of thought in a different way than "normal".

With time (running the lectures a couple of times) you probably get a good picture of what are repeating questions and you can actually use them in your lecture by saying "you may now wonder why [something] and I will get back to that in a moment" (or what may be appropriate. Do not be afraid to experiment!

  • I have recently been taught that "good question" should not be stated. Is the next question bad if this one is good but the next one doesn't get a "good question"? If my question isn't as good, should I avoid asking it? I'm not sure about my question - what if the teacher tells me "bad question"; maybe I shoudln't ask. – atk Nov 4 '13 at 20:09
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    @atk: You could take the approach of one professor I once had, who would immediately say "very good point" whenever any question was asked. Unfortunately, we caught on pretty fast that that's what he was doing, because there was a significant language barrier, so half the time, after complimenting the question, he would have to ask the student to repeat and/or rephrase it. Awkward! – ruakh Nov 5 '13 at 4:16
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    @ruakh: reminds me of a math lecturer who would answer any yes-or-no question with "In some sense, yes", and then proceed to definitively show why the answer was "no" (without ever saying so) – Max Nov 5 '13 at 8:02
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When I get such questions from my students, I always answer the same way: "I am so glad you asked that!"

I think it's a mistake to view such questions as a negative phenomenon that should be avoided and prevented. For one thing, the question shows that the student is paying attention and drawing the proper conclusions. But consider the benefit to all the other students, those who might not have formulated the question yet: the question serves as proof that what you're teaching is useful.

Consider two alternatives (using an example from computer programming):


Teacher: And that's how you let a user input a number.

Student: What if you want to take many numbers from the user? Do you have to copy and paste the same code over and over?

Answer A: Please save your questions until after I show you loops.

Answer B: I'm so glad you asked that! Avoiding copy and pasting code is an important habit for computer programmers. So let's talk about loops...


The student's question served as a perfect setup for the next lesson, and in a way that convinces other students that the lesson is practical and necessary. It's like teaching with the Socratic method ("why is this useful? ... because it..."), except that you have an accomplice in the audience instead of having to talk to yourself.

  • Haha I hope you vary "I'm so glad you asked that!". That could be kinda repetitive. Maybe swap in "Excellent question" or "Interesting idea" every once in a while. – MirroredFate Nov 4 '13 at 23:48
  • @MirroredFate: if it happens multiple times in a lesson I have my own script for ramping it up, along the lines of "Another perfect question," "This class is the greatest, you keep setting me up," etc. (I have an "enthusiasm is contagious" approach) – David Robinson Nov 5 '13 at 4:29
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    @MirroredFate Retrieving a pseudo-random element from an array is not covered until later in the semester. ;) – BrianH Nov 5 '13 at 4:29
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    @BrianDHall "...but I am so glad you brought it up!" – David Robinson Nov 5 '13 at 4:33
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You stated the question very well: you want to lower the number of 'easy questions' (the ones that are natural at this point), but not discourage them to ask questions altogether. Apart from the usual 'we will get there in a moment' response I see two ways of doing it.

If you think it is seriously needed you could have a conversation with them about it. You say they are bright students so they probably will see the value in restraining themselves a bit. You could possibly formulate some sort of policy:

  1. It is always OK to ask a question immediately if there is something that you did not understood.
  2. If you have a question of curiosity (like 'but mam, if that is true what does it imply for X?') then you could wait a bit.

If you do that and pause regularly enough (may be not once per lecture but 10 to 15 minutes) so they can ask their questions, then they will not be frustrated yet allow you to deliver the course without too many interruptions.

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    Discouraging students from thinking about the implications of what you're teaching seems dangerous to me. – Brendan Long Nov 4 '13 at 23:07
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I find that when I interrupt people, it's often because I know that if I wait until there's a lull, I'll have forgotten my question.

For people without faulty memory, it's still a good habit not to blurt out a question the moment it pops into your head. I find that most of my questions are answered if I just hold on to them for a minute or two.

In a formal classroom setting, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask students to hold their questions until you've finished talking (or, if you can remember, when you prompt for questions). For those, like me, who can't hold on to a thought for more than five seconds, there is pencil and paper...

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How about giving a summarized, quick answer and then saying "I'll have more details soon"

Personally, if someone asks me a question and there's a "summary version" I like to give that at least give that summary info.

I think it's worth experimenting with. I wish I had an example. Well here's a the basic idea:

Student: "Is there a difference between how we see stars and planets in the sky?"

Professor: "Yep, one of these celestial objects twinkles. Reflect on that , and I'll give the full monty after I finish this."

I totally realize it can be annoying/vexing to be a little derailed, but if we want to accommodate the curious students, we may be best served by giving them a snap-shot/summary/challenging-yet-telling answer without feeling derailed. The fact is that a snap-answer of "I'll get to that soon" is a little useless. Well at least to me

Good luck, no doubt instructing is an art!

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From my experience, most questions are due to the need to feel clever.. less are due to the need to understand more. In both cases, instructor has to appreciate the question. Whether or not you will immediately answer, is a different issue from having to making the student feel appreciated.

Psychology is an important part of learning. Hence, it is an essential part of teaching is to make students feel good. Your immediate response must be positive:

  • Good question
  • I like it when you think ahead
  • That is the right question; congrats
  • etc

Then, it depends on your judgement if you want to answer immediately, or simply say:

  • your answer is coming up in a moment
  • stay tuned
  • etc

alternatively, some people defer questions to the end of session. That has more negatives than positives. I prefer to keep them engaged and encourage them to challenge my ideas.

0

I agree with all the other answers, but I would make one more very practical suggestion: Consider putting more material on your slides! If you have 50 slides and students are always asking about material on the next slide, then putting it onto 25 slides will remove half the instances of this.

Of course, this can be taken too far, but it is worth considering.

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    Careful! Most people make their slides WAY too crowded. – JeffE Nov 5 '13 at 4:15
  • Alternatively, make sure that your slides are available beforehand so that the keen students can read them beforehand and will know what's coming up so won't need to ask about it. – Loop Space Nov 5 '13 at 9:46
  • Alternatively, make sure that your slides are available beforehand ... so that they think they don't have to come to class? – JeffE Nov 30 '13 at 20:10
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    @JeffE if they feel they don't have to come to class: either they're wrong, and they'll pay for it; or they're right… – F'x Dec 2 '13 at 11:15
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I would try to find out whether it's due to:

  1. a structural problem in the lecture,
  2. students trying to demonstrate to each other that they are clever, or
  3. the students' eagerness to work with the material.

If it's the first, the questions will focus on the basics to understand it and it's important to address them. Perhaps restructure the lecture to address them first. I'd check which questions were asked when and whether I could improve the thread of the presentation.

If it's the second or the third, it might help to ask the students to write down those questions that are not immediately relevant for understanding what is said, but more for application and borderline cases or whatever. You can do a question "break" after each unit -- indicated by a special slide that also summaries the previous material. It will take some work to enforce the rule change, but the questions break might allow the smarter students to play with the material and the slower ones time to process what was said. And once students trust you that you do this they might refrain from interrupting. A good "table of contents" or advance organizer in the beginning of the lecture might also help.

One last thing, when it comes to questions, there's rarely a need to pick the students immediately. Just nodding that you have seen the question and continuing until you come to a break might also work. (If you acted differently beforehand, it might be necessary to explicitly explain the change to the class.) After a couple of "Thanks, you already answered the question." the interruptions could reduce.

protected by eykanal Mar 9 '15 at 10:44

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