Chapter 3. Effective Communication


Good questioning can determine how well the student understands what is being taught. It also shows the student that the instructor is paying attention and that the instructor is interested in the student’s response. An instructor should ask focused, open-ended questions and avoid closed-ended questions.

Focused questions allow the instructor to concentrate on desired areas. An instructor may ask for additional details, examples, and impressions from the student. This allows the instructor to ask further questions if necessary. The presentation can then be modified to fit the understanding of the student.

Open-ended questions are designed to encourage full, meaningful answers using the student’s own knowledge and perceptions while closed-ended questions encourage a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions, which typically begin with words such as “why” and “how” tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions. Often open-ended questions are not technically questions, but statements that implicitly ask for completion. An instructor’s ability to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop.

In contrast, closed-ended questions tend to evaluate the student’s understanding only at the rote level of learning. Closed-ended questions can be answered by “yes” or “no.” When used in a multiple choice scenario, closed-ended questions have a finite set of answers from which the respondent chooses. One of the choices may be “other.” It is a good idea to allow respondents to write in an optional response if they choose “other” because developing the student response may lead to insights into the learning process.

One benefit of closed-ended questions is that they are relatively easy to standardize and the data gathered easily lend themselves to statistical analysis. The down side to closed-ended questions is that they are more difficult to write than open-ended questions, generally lead the student towards the desired answer, and may under certain circumstances direct the conversation toward the instructor’s own agenda.

To be effective, questions, regardless of the type, must be adapted to the ability, experience, and stage of training of the student. Effective questions and, therefore, effective communications center on only one idea. A single question should be limited to who, what, when, where, why, or how and not a combination of these. Effective questioning must present a challenge to the student. Questions of suitable difficulty serve to stimulate learning.

Two ways of confirming that the student and instructor understand things in the same way are the use of paraphrasing and perception checking. The instructor can use paraphrasing to show what the student’s statement meant to the instructor. In this way, the student can then make any corrections or expansions on the statement in order to clarify. Perception checking gets to the feelings of the student, again by stating what perceptions the instructor has of the student’s behavior that the student can then clarify as necessary.

Since it is important that the instructor understand as much as possible about the students, instructors can be much more effective by using improved listening skills and effective questions to help in putting themselves in the place of the students. Questions should be phrased to focus the student on the decision-making process and the exercise of good judgment.

Knowledge of the subject material and skill at instructional communication are necessary to be an instructor. Increasing the depth of knowledge in either area makes the instructor more effective.

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