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Northwest Missouri State University

 Dawn Gilley's Questioning Techniques

Dawn Gilley - Questioning Techniques

Dr. Dawn Gilley, Assistant Professor
Humanities & Social Sciences Department
Questioning Techniques

Learning to ask the right questions has been one of the more difficult activities for Dr. Dawn Gilley has encountered as an educator because there is so much that has to be considered right on the spot, in the moment.  Because history is ultimately about humans and human nature, she operates from a position that students know more than they think they do. They simply lack the confidence to respond or the courage to be wrong.  Because of this disposition, asking questions of students during class can be a tricky situation.  Instructors want to help build student confidence and at the same time stretch their minds, to challenge them.  Dr. Gilley has a few tried and true tricks she has learned from experiences in the classroom, both as professor and student, as well as by watching other educators. 

First, at the beginning of every class period, there is a designated review of the previous class’s material.  That entire review is done through questioning, but Dr. Gilley throws in a few lead-ins to that day’s material so they get a sense of where they are going.  Typically the students answer as a class rather than having individual students raise their hands. By doing it this way, it builds a sort of camaraderie amongst the students and the confidence level of the whole rises some.

Second, when she first started teaching, Dr. Gilley literally scheduled questions in her lecture notes as it helps to slow her own pace.  When she gets really excited about a particular topic, like the Roman Revolution, Dr. Gilley says she tend to speed up the story-telling leaving students confused.  She has noticed over the years that if an instructor moves too quickly through the information, the students are less likely to ask questions, even questions asking the instructor to slow down. She used these questions to slow herself down and also to give the class a minute to pause and reflect on the significance of what has been discussed so far. She continues to do this, but it has changed.  Dr. Gilley finds she rarely needs to use lecture notes anymore, but she does walk into class with about 6 or 7 questions that she want to make sure to ask.  She thinks of these questions as mini-review type questions and questions that set up the next bit of content.  

Third, Dr. Gilley asks sets of questions that start small and sometimes obvious (so-called leading questions) and then follow-up with what could be called “trailing questions” which get more thought-provoking, asking students to make connections that they might not have considered valid. Typically, the answers to this type of questioning are simple yes or no or factoidal. Inevitably though, the students are hesitant even with that simple yes or no or that fact so at this point you have to get them to understand that they do know the answer so she connect it to something that the students can relate to. For instance, when discussing the nomadic culture of Paleolithic society and its lack of wealth accumulation and social hierarchy, she gets the students to compare that scenario with one that nearly all of them have experienced: being Freshmen in the residence halls. Another example is when discussing collective identity as a characteristic of civilization. Dr. Gilley uses ‘athletic patriotism,’ in this case, typically Northwest Bearcats versus MoWest Griffons.  For her, the more she can get the complex idea/question into a form that is relevant to the students’ everyday lives, the more the students seems to build confidence and more importantly understand. This means that has to stay abreast of current pop culture so she pays attention to the sorts of things students are talking about before class and then she goes home and researches it so she can get a sense of “their world.”

Dr. Gilley said, “I guess when all is said and done, it would certainly be easier for me to just stand in front of the room and talk for 75 minutes not engaging the students at all. But, that is not teaching; that is talking. And, I need to be challenged as much as the students do; otherwise the course gets stale and is flat out boring.”

Dr. Gilley is an Assistant Professor in the Humanities & Social Sciences Department.  If you are interested in learning more about how Dr. Gilley worked through the process to design and develop her online course, contact her at or x-1839 or the CITE Office at and x-1532.