What happens if a student asks a question that you don’t know the answer to?

22 Aug

According to Wilbert McKeachie in McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, you can use this as an opportunity to model how a professional in your field approaches a problem. You might:

  • think out loud to model your thought process
  • identify the resource(s) you would consult to find the answer
  • inform the student that you will get back to them with an answer and be sure to do so

Additional Resources / Ideas


4 Responses to “What happens if a student asks a question that you don’t know the answer to?”

  1. David C Roberts 26 August 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    This is a great tip! The next time a student asks me a ‘good question’ (even if I do know the answer) I will practice this process. Thanks

  2. IleneDawn 27 August 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    I’m waiting for this to happen when I’m teaching in the new-on-campus active learning classroom with the 25 students having their laptops, so that I can say what I’ve been rehearsing – “What are two ways we can ask that question? And that are two search engines from the class list are we going to use? You on the left side of the room use ____, you on the right use ____. List possible answers on the white boards by your tables.” Looking forward to hearing what you’ve rehearsed!

  3. Monica 27 September 2011 at 8:13 am #

    I often do something similar – whether I know the answer or not. And then on my course evaluations, students say that I can’t answer their questions 😦

    • UMinnTeachLearn 27 September 2011 at 10:02 am #

      Hi Monica – I hate when that happens. The thing I learned from BIll Dyer (the Mankato prof who was my first TA supervisor, and likely the first ever MSU TA supervisor at all) after we 10 new TAs all experienced something similar in evals for our first quarter was to work into our daily language some markers for what was going on – as in saying “in answering your question, I’d like first to say blah blah blah, then ask 3 of you to join me as we each find one more way to answer that question during the next class.” Or saying, “remember that in answering the question last week about ____, I pointed you to [name book, resource, idea], well, let’s go back to that idea now. It’s that on-going thing of making students aware that learning is going on – kinda hated having to do that but it did help me in the evals and it did help them by having the signposts of and transitions into learning. Other ideas out there?

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