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The Question

Whenever I first meet someone, I try to ask the following question: Tell me about the strangest or the funniest thing that's ever happened to you. Then I sit back, break out the popcorn, and listen. I'm often as entertained as I would be at a major movie theater, and $8 richer, too. A good question provides more than entertainment, though. Properly posed, it can also give you valuable information about how your students learn.

When you meet a student for the first time, ask this question: Tell me about the best teacher you've ever had and why he or she was so great. Then sit back and take notes.

If you are at all adept at listening, you're likely to hear things about your students' learning strategies, such as whether they learn better by reading or doing, and whether they respond better to coddling or criticism. These are things it would ordinarily take weeks or months to learn by trial and error in the air, by which time one of you may have quit.

As far the students are concerned, they're simply telling you a story about their past. What they are in fact telling you is a lot about their future with you. There is a lot to be learned by asking the right question, and then listening carefully to the answer.

Remember, during the first few lessons your students are usually on their best behavior, often trying to fit their style of learning to your style of teaching. It's not until they feel comfortable with you that they allow you to see their real selves. This is when efficient teaching begins, and the sooner you get there the better for everyone. So help your students learn by getting them to quickly reveal the qualities they find useful and meaningful in a good instructor. Start by asking them a good question. That's the answer.

By Rod Machado

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