They say, “There are no stupid questions.” Perhaps not. But sometimes there are “premature” questions. What do I mean? If the student would just take 30 seconds to look through their papers or to read the directions just one more time, more closely this time, then they could avoid asking me, “What are we doing?”
I try my hardest to not be snappy in my response. But I’m only human and on the 16th time I’m asked the same question within 15 minutes, I can be less than composed and cool.
My feeling is that students just don’t want to figure it out. It’s just easier to ask me. It’s instant answer. They don’t have to read more carefully, they don’t have to dig through their stuff, and they don’t have to look something up. This is probably a side effect of living in a culture of “instant gratification” where a snap of fingers or a click on the mouse can make answers appear. How often do we say, “I wonder if…” or “I wonder what…” and the other person says, “Google it.” We do. And we find the answer within seconds. No need to wonder or ponder for too long.
Learning how to do documentation and citation is one of the most frustrating exercises for my students. It’s tedious (if you are doing it right). It’s painstaking (if you are doing it right). It’s so, so detail-oriented (if you are doing it right). It’s nearly like pulling teeth. In class, I give them three different sources and tell them to create a works cited page. The task comes with endless sighs, moaning, whining, and groaning. And I ask them, “Isn’t this super frustrating?” In chorus they respond, “Yes!” And I say “It’s painful, but you gotta get through this!” and I cheer them on.
The value of this exercise is not entirely in doing the documentation itself – many students will never use MLA documentation after college. The real value lies in the fact that the students get to practice information literacy skills: They learn how to look for and get information needed to complete a task or solve a problem, and they learn to look at their sources (information) more critically.
So when a student yells out, “When was this movie made?” I don’t tell them “2004.” I say, “Look it up.” When they ask, “Does this look right?” I stand next to them, put the model next to their work and make them compare the two. And most of the time, they can see the difference for themselves and they can tell me what they need to do to improve.
Discovery is key to learning. And often frustration is a critical ingredient in cooking up experiences that will guide students to discovery. This means, sometimes they have to find the answers themselves… and they can’t just ask the teacher. Not because it’s a stupid question but because they CAN answer it themselves… and discover and learn.