Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Question

There are two types of people in this world: those who can fearlessly ask questions in class and those who shy away in the back hoping that they will just understand the material. Personally, I tend to shy away and pray that someone else will happen to not understand the same material as me and ask the question. There are times though when I can build my courage up to ask. We all hear teachers say, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no dumb questions.” But we all know what our peers can be like. I think that it is nice that our teachers try and provide a safe learning environment but it seems as though some people may never feel comfortable.


Allison M. Ryan, Margaret H. Gheen and Carol Midgley from the University of Michigan set out to find out it there was any relationship between how students acted in class and their willingness to get help for the material they don’t understand. Ryan, Gheen and Midgley set up longitudinal study containing 513 students across 63 different sixth grade math classes. A longitudinal study would follow these students for a long time, usually resulting in more solid results at the end. The students and teachers were given surveys to complete and assured that they would be kept confidential so as to avoid dishonestly. Their results showed that boys were less likely to ask for help when they were struggling. Overall though, the study concluded that students who were not confident in their work, were less likely to get help. Although students who were more confident in their work were more likely to ask for help. The researchers started looking in to ways that classroom environments could be changed in order to help everyone feel comfortable asking questions. They concluded that having a warm, friendly teacher will definitely help. In addition, making sure that the classroom does not have a competitive environment will enable the quiet ones to feel more confident asking questions.

I think this study was done very thoroughly and concluded some helpful information. They decided to only look at math classes which was a smart control. They said that there was no specific reason as to why they chose math. I wonder what would have happened if they had picked language arts classes or sciences classes. Would the results have changed? Or what would happen if they had studied college age students?

Christine Chin writes an interesting article discussing why it is important for students to ask questions. She points out that by asking questions, students are exploring the unknown and honing in the areas they don’t understand yet. Chin believes that it is important for students to know how to ask good questions. This isn’t up to just the students though! Teachers should be creating a welcoming environment in which they teach their students to ask good questions and encourage it.

Though none of this may change your mind in wanting to ask a question in class, just know that it really is beneficial to your learning. Some of us, myself included, may need to push ourselves to be bold and ask a question. We have to stop worrying about what others will think about us, chances are they had the same question! Our learning, in this situation, should come before our pride. So if you haven’t been to a post exam review session yet, I highly recommend going because that is a perfect environment to ask questions without feeling uncomfortable. All you have to do is raise your hand!

Study #1:

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6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Question

  1. Thomas Tatem Moore

    Great article, this is a topic that I can relate to. Throughout school for twelve years I always tried to be an active participant in class, and ask and answer as many questions. I still try to do this in the two classes I have here that are similar to the size of my classes in high school. However, when I get into my larger lecture halls I have no intention of asking or answering the questions. This fear even lead me to not put my name in the hat for this class. Here is a video that shows how beneficial asking and answering questions is to your learning.

  2. Lucille Laubenstein

    I can completely relate to this topic, which is why it initially caught my eye. When I was younger, and less sensitive to the judgement of my peers, I used to frequently ask question, and participate in class, but like as the study suggested, when i got older, and the environment became more competitive, I became less apt to ask questions. The study from the University of Michigan provided an interesting angle on the subject, because of its longitudinal nature. However, I wish that you had included more studies to give a little more subsistence to the claim. This article examines the passivity of students and if this effects the development of their question asking abilities. While it does look at a broader range of ages, K-12, there is some overlap, so it could be useful for a comparison. Also, I thought the questions you raised, about whether or not the subject in school effects a students willingness to volunteer questions. I for one know that I am far more willing to ask and answer questions in my English, or Spanish classes, than I am in my math or science classes. If you can find a study like this, it would be a wonderful addition to your blog!

  3. Pengji Wei

    Hello Monica. Great article. When I first read the topic, it draws my attention immediately. Because just like you, I am also the one who is shy in the class. Because I am always afraid to say some stupid questions and embarrass myself. But after I read your blog, I found there is no embarrassing things to me. And the most surprising thing I found that in your blog is that said that the student who has most confidence with the project tend to ask teacher more, and student who has less confidence tend to ask teacher less. So it might can prove that student is more active in the class tend to have a better grades. Also it’s like we talked bout in class, student who pay less attention on their phone tend to have better grades. So I think I need change myself and participate in class for a better grades. And here is a link talked about how to let student pay attention in the class.

  4. Wesley Scott Alexander

    I thought your blog post was really interesting and especially relevant to college students in particular. I wonder if, doing another study, they would take the size of the class into consideration? I know personally that is one of the things that really determines how often I raise my hand to ask or answer a question. I feel much more comfortable doing so in small classes than in huge, 300 person lecture halls, like our science class. I would be interested to see what kind of effect altering class sizes would have on the data.

  5. Grace Ellen Leibow

    Monica, I was drawn to your post on a semi-related note because I actually got randomly called on out of the hat to answer a question today. Although it was definitely an initial shock, and I for a moment resented the fact that I decided to put my name in the hat, as soon as I came to and answered the question, I immediately felt a cloud of relief, and a lot more willingness to participate in the future. Although answering and asking a question are different situations, I think it all comes down to engagement and participation that helps to break that wall of confusion and teacher/student relations, and helps the student further understand the material, and strive to do his or her best. I found a fascinating article that discusses 10 benefits of student participation in the classroom, for both students and faculty. You can find it here:

    1. Monica Lynn Powell Post author

      Grace, I’m sure you did great in class today! I was way too scared to put my name in the hat, although watching everyone else do it, it doesn’t seem to be that bad. I think if I were to go back, I would have entered my name to push myself. I definitely agree with you when you say that asking a question is very similar to answering a question. I didn’t even think to add that into my blog! I have a love/hate relationship with class participation but when you are forced to participate and ask or answer questions, it really does help you. It would be interesting to look to see if there was a correlation between if a class required participation and the students’ grades in the class. Thank you for that article, it had some really great points in it, especially #9!

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