10 questions learners shouldn’t ask…

Curiosity is the key to learning. If you read this blog, you know how much I value a culture of questioning and thinking. But there are some questions I would rather hear less frequently in the classroom. Okay, I might not answer some of them in quite this way, but you get the point. It’s about stepping back, giving the learners more ownership of their learning, encouraging independence…

1. Is this good?  

I don’t know. What do you think?

2. How do you want me to do it?

How do you want to do it?

3. What’s the right answer?

I don’t know. What do you think?

4. How do you do this?

What possibilities can you think of?

5. The computer isn’t working. What should I do?

What have you tried?

6. Do you like what I wrote?

Do you like what you wrote?

7. Is this enough? How long should it be? 

How much is enough? Have you said everything you want to say?

8. Can I try something different?

Isn’t that your job as a learner?

9. Do we have to do it?

Maybe not. Do you have a better idea?

10. Is this a silly question?

There are no silly questions… Oh, wait, there are.

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning.


14 thoughts on “10 questions learners shouldn’t ask…

  1. Hi Edna,
    I agree for the most part but I still think of 1, 2 and 6. I teach little children and tried the “answers” you give but sometimes they only build frustration.

    I refer here to more “exact” sides of a subject such as spelling. Surely we “construct” knowledge and kids are invited to inquire into language, identify patterns and make connections (we do not use the “skill and drill” technique), but at times they need a reassurance- “Yes, this word is correctly spelled.” – as English language presents a big set of exceptions. The kids cannot simply rely on the patterns they discovered (e.g. “oo” in “door” as opposed to “”room”) so they need my feedback.

    In what regards question 2, we do allow choice when students present their learning (different formats of projects depending on their abilities, type of intelligence etc). But the problem is reversed when we actually have to teach those formats – how to write a report, a letter etc. Kids need to build the knowledge and skill first, and only later they can access all these various formats (after they actually have a good grasp of them).

    As for 6 – “Do yo like what I wrote?” – I don’t think teacher’s feedback should be so impersonal or miss completely. One can pinpoint the good aspects of a student’s writing avoiding the words that convey intelligence or personal traits (“This is SMART”, “This is GENIUS” etc). If the teacher focuses solely on the task/written piece and its characteristics I think is OK. We are, after all, human beings and need a sort of validation – kids get it from their peers, parents, friends all the time. HOW this validation is given makes all the difference.


  2. Hi Cristina

    You are right, of course. Kids need validation, explicit teaching is required, expectations differ depending on the task…

    Sometimes my posts are a little tongue in cheek, to make a point.



  3. Hi, I just recently stumbled upon your blog!

    In some classrooms, students would be rightfully afraid to try things for themselves, especially in the case of #5 (the computer not working): a teacher could find fault with the students for tinkering with school-owned technology without knowing what they were doing. As much as I understand your frustration with these questions, students have been trained to ask them by all the teachers who *did* require following exact instructions to a T.

    There is also something to be said for knowing *where* to seek information and taking the initiative to seek it from the right place. Workplaces usually have an IT department to whom computer questions should be directed, for example. (Of course, I’m pretty sure IT specialists have their own long lists of silly questions they get asked!)


  4. Hehe! 🙂 ..Edna… I have some silly ones…
    Miss…do i use a red marker or blue?
    Where do I write the sum?!!(math ,unit or language book)


  5. Edna,
    I love these! While some of these may be tongue-in-cheek for elementary students, I am amazed how many of my pre-service teachers ask the same questions, over and over again 😉 As someone who wants them to love educational technology as much as I do and see it as a brilliant medium of instruction, I continue to hope for change. My strong desire for their intrinsic motivation to drive their learning is usually overpowered by their frantic concern about EXACTLY what they have to do to get an “A.” Sadly they are products of an American educational system that rarely rewards creativity or divergent thought. . .yet still I hope 😉


  6. Your post made me think and smile – as usual Edna. My thinking is mostly about how I answer my students’ questions of this type. I fell I can stand back, be patient, be less possessive of the answer.
    I’m also thinking about giving my kids lots of opportunities to ask other types of questions – those wondering, neverending rich ones that deserve a bit more space than I allow some days.
    As an aside, students have been asking ‘shouldn’t ask’ questions since the olden days: http://in-the-woodshed.blogspot.com/2011/01/lesson-don-linehan.html


  7. Alternative title: “10 answers every teacher should be prepared to give”.

    I was going to suggest “10 answers students love to hate”, too. But that isn’t ideal. Perhaps it’s reality in classrooms, though. I know my students are getting used to answers like that, but they are stillin the mindset of school = doing ‘work’ and therefore, if teacher gives an open-ended answer, it usually involves more ‘work’.

    Trying to get my own students to see that learning is the point, not work, has been my biggest hurdle. They are getting there, though, and are starting to take charge! Yay!

    Great post, Edna. Thanks!


  8. I loved this post too-tongue in cheek some answers may be 🙂 but the response of “what do you think” is also really valuable in helping students to think deeply about their learning, reflect and make connections themselves. So many High School students ask these questions too and thinking about ways to respond, instead of always providing the answer or making a teacher value judgement, is really something I think we need to craft as teachers.
    Thanks for making me reflect today Edna !.


  9. As a teacher of 6th-12th grade, I agree with 100% of these, no tongue-in-cheek. In the past, it was very evident which students who had been so “validated” as to be virtually helpless in the face of their own learning; they couldn’t move forward without explicit teacher direction and acceptance. I want my students to know that my personal opinion of their work is infinitely less important than theirs; I can help them refine it, but ultimately they decide the direction, the tools and when they have reached the destination.


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