Have you heard of “smushing”? Probably not… but it’s a word I use to describe what happens when my questioning style accidentally “smushes” my students.
Smushing means I phrase a question in a way that limits my students’ replies and ends a potentially constructive conversation. Smushing also steals away any insights I could have gained into how I might better serve the needs of my students.
Are you “smushing” replies too? Read on!
The Top 4 “Smushers” To Avoid
1. Did you practice this week? (This requires just a yes or no answer… and so you’re not going to gain good insight into how much or how little practice happened).
Replace this with: “How did you spend your practice time this week?”
2. Do you understand? (This also requires just a yes or no answer… and you’ll rarely get a “no”).
Replace this with: “What would you like to ask me about this?” Answering this question requires some thought and results in a response that will give you real insight into what he or she did or did not understand.
3. Can you…. (I use this way to often. Usually it’s followed by a direction for my student such as “Can you play this again from the beginning”). But of COURSE she can! Asking this question implies that there is the possibility that she can’t.
Replace this with: “Would you like to…”. Suggesting a direction in this manner ensures that your students do not think you are questioning their ability, while still allowing you to gain insight into their desire to perform a particular drill or exercise. If my student is replying “no thanks” too often this is a clear sign that something in my teaching needs to be altered.
My (outspoken) students used to reply “no thanks” when I would ask “Would you like to play through your technical exercises?”. My quiet ones would do it, but with a grimace…. until I started using TEDDTales. Now everyone is saying “YES please!” Check it out here.
4. Okay? ( I also use this too frequently). Even if your students aren’t “okay” in terms of understanding or of wanting to do something, asking this “smushes” them into replying “okay”… simply because people are used to replying to “okay” with “okay” (when was the last time you said no to an “okay”?!).
Replace this with: (again) “What would you like to ask me” or “What would you like to go over before we move on?”
Small Changes Reap Big Rewards
In the beginning it may feel like you’re having to really watch what you say (and obviously these 4 phrases will sneak back into your teaching… it’s just part of how we casually communicate), but if you have a student with whom you are struggling to make a connection, or if you have a student who is not quite progressing as they should, then change up the way you speak in lessons to see if “smushing” could be the culprit.