Q is for Questions

On the way to school a few weeks ago, my sixteen-year-old daughter gave me a new insight into the life of students that, despite about 25 years in the classroom, had passed me by.

My daughter Sophie helps me to understand how teenagers feel, yet even with her aid, I sometimes fail dismally. That’s one of the hazards of growing old.

During the drive to school, she mentioned to me that she doesn’t always understand what her teachers have just explained. I asked her, perhaps a little impatiently: “Why on earth don’t you just ask the teacher to explain it again?”

My daughter replied: “I can’t do at. I don’t want everyone to think that I’m stupid.”

And there was the answer to the question that I’d always asked myself: why is it that the students who could really use advice shy away from asking for it? Conversely, why do the students who hardly require any help at all nevertheless request it?

My daughter is my advisor on all matters relating to the teenage sphere. Yet even with her input, at my advanced age I can be rather slow on the uptake.

Sophie had made the reasons clear with that simple statement. If a student already understands, there’s no shame involved in asking for clarification; those who are all at sea, however, would rather preserve the appearance of being on top of the subject.

I suggested that she couch her request in such a careful, precise way that everyone in the class, including the teacher, would be impressed by her probing questioning technique. There would then be no danger than anyone might find her foolish.

Here are a few ways of asking for help – or at least showing that you might need it. Can you classify them according to the options provided?




Rose’s solution to the question-asking, help-requesting conundrum… I have featured her question in my quiz above, because her idea has many merits: a precise, directed request; limited use of teacher time (so that other students can also gain help); and evidence that she had thought through her work and picked out the parts that she felt required development.

 No teacher, on hearing the most precise and probing questions presented in the quiz above, could doubt the power of your intellect or indeed your eagerness to learn, develop and improve.

Of course, some teachers are neither particularly patient nor sympathetic. They may even assume that if you question what they’ve said, you simply haven’t been listening. A precise question permits you to demonstrate that you have indeed been paying attention; the onus is then on the teacher to explain the topic more thoroughly.

Teachers are not mind-readers. With the years, we gain some insight into what students find difficult and we gradually learn to address some difficulties even before they become evident. All the same, we sometimes assume that students understand better than they do in reality.

That’s why you should try to ask precise and probing questions, even if this seems awkward and embarrassing at first.

Profit from your teachers’ expertise. Let us know when we need to explain something better. Put us to work for you.

Kind regards,

Ms Green



(a) Can you suggest another effective way of asking for help that might lead to precise and useful feedback? You need not only refer to the subject of English. How could you ask for help in your other subjects?

(b) How would you describe yourself in this regard? Do you ask for help easily or do you tend to go it alone? Do you think you are sometimes wary of asking for help or feedback? 

(c) Other students are often the best helpers, because they have already dealt with the same difficulties as you have and managed to work out solutions of their own. Can you recall a time when you have helped someone else or another student has helped you? Describe this experience.