With the first deadline for the first assignment in both my classes past me, I’ve entered the most difficult stage of the quarter. Try as I might, I find it difficult to get my students to ask me questions, whether in class or while doing the assignments. I try to do everything I can to encourage them. I ask for input during classes, counting to 10 or 15 as we wait to make sure that they have enough time to answer. I say something positive about each contribution, no matter how far off from the response I was hoping to hear, which isn’t hard since the tangents those produce are some of the best learning experiences. I mention student contributions later during class when relevant material is covered. I smile and joke around with students before and after class. I repeatedly remind them about the one-hour rule. And I answer e-mail quickly and with helpful suggestions. Still, despite all these efforts, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to ask questions.
I try to remind myself that it gets better as the quarter progresses. Eventually some students will come to see me, get some helpful hints, and with any luck talk about the positive experience with their classmates. With enough exposure I become less scary or intimidating or whatever it is that they perceive, and they warm up. But the waiting between the first assignment and the point at which they feel comfortable enough to begin asking questions is painful for me each and every quarter. Part of my job is to help them by answering questions, but I can’t answer questions that never get asked.