Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

Actually, There IS Such a Thing as a Stupid Question


I’ve often questioned the saying that there are “no stupid questions.” In my experience, very few absolutes are true.

I understand the sentiment of the statement, of course.  As a teacher, I want my students to feel comfortable with speaking up when something does not make sense.  And I certainly don’t want to stifle anyone’s curiosity.

But you’re probably never going to hear me say, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”  Because I’ve heard some really dumb ones over the years – all of them spoken by yours truly. They are stupid because they: are counter-productive, usually reflect my own lack of planning or inflexibility, and sometimes make me want to sink into one of the drawers of my filing cabinet as soon as they escape my lips.

“Weren’t you listening when I gave the directions?” is a stupid question.  If a student is asking me about something I just went over, he or she either didn’t hear it, can’t remember it, or doesn’t understand it. In my case, it’s usually the second one.  Since I teach different grade levels each day, I sometimes forget that my younger ones can’t keep track of multi-step directions.  Of course, there are students who chronically tune me out when I go over instructions. After 20 years of research I’ve discovered that asking that question every time does not solve the problem.  As for not understanding the actual instructions, that rarely happens.  Applying them to the work at hand might be the challenge – but that’s just part of the fun 🙂

“Why do I hear people talking?” Yes, I’ve said this before.  And it’s to my students’ credit that they have never responded, “Because your imaginary friends want your attention.”  This question is not only stupid because there is no good response, but also because I am trying to encourage more collaboration.  What I need to do is teach more about the right ways to collaborate instead of wasting time and effort on trying to keep my students quiet.

“Could you please speak up?”  is probably what I should use for the rare times when I do need a silent classroom.  For some reason, I still say this, and it still has the exact same result it had when I first started teaching.  A quieter child.  I have tried varying my tone, rephrasing it, and using examples to no avail.  “Pretend you’re outside at recess!” is just as effective.  The only thing that gave my shy kids a voice was when I had a wireless mic and speaker system in my classroom.  My current school does not have a sound system, but I’m thinking of creating my own.  In my portable classroom, the heater overpowers these timid speakers, and they often have excellent contributions.

“Does that make sense?” When I ask a whole group this question, of course no one is going to shout out, “No, that was completely confusing!”  One solution is for me to talk less, so they have less to decipher.  When I do need some immediate feedback, I try to employ student response systems like Socrative or good, old-fashioned thumbs up/thumbs down.  The best way to tell, of course, is to take a good look at my audience.  If you know your students, you can pretty much tell by the looks on their faces if they “got it” or not.

And my favorite stupidest question ever:

“From now on, when we blow the recess whistle, would you boys please hold your balls?”  I only said it once – back when I was a 5th grade teacher to a bunch of students who kept dribbling basketballs while in line.  Yep, dumb.  But definite proof that stupid questions do exist.

So, do you have any to add to the list?

6 thoughts on “Actually, There IS Such a Thing as a Stupid Question”

  1. At the end of the year last year I was able to test out this “surround sound” system in my classroom the last month of school. It was AMAZING!!! The district was trying them out and wanted to see how it was in an open concept classroom. It had two mics and I wore one and the kids passed around the other. Everyone could hear each other! It kept their attention too. Our campus IT is the one who brought it to me. Ask her about it. I wish they let me “keep” using it.

    1. I actually had that at my last school, and it was phenomenal. It really makes a difference! I’ve been missing it tremendously, but I will definitely ask the IT about it. Thanks!

  2. OMG! I’m guilty of asking every one of those questions too (except the last one lol)! Is it something we learned in our teacher training classes??? Now every time I utter one of those questions I’m going to think about this blog. It’s very similar to those things we say to our own kids that our mothers said to us, and we say we will never say, but we still do.

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