Have you ever been in the middle of teaching something and someone asks a question on a very different topic? I’ve had students come up to the front of class right as I’m in the middle of explaining something in order to ask me about something unrelated such as a class they’ll need to miss the next week for some odd reason.
As teachers, we need to stay on task for the sake of the whole class while still sure all of our students feel that they’re heard and their questions, unrelated as they may be, are important. During the Acceleration training I went to at Porterville College this summer, I got a really great idea from Melissa Long about this topic. It’s a simple idea, and yet it’s a very effective way to put questions on hold without forgetting about them.
Put a poster paper on the wall somewhere in the classroom. Label it the parking lot. If you want to get creative, you could even put a few car pictures on it. Let students know that this is the area for them to put any questions they have pop up that don’t relate to what’s happening at the moment. Students will write their questions on sticky notes and put them in the parking lot.
If a student brings up a question that would derail the conversation or task at hand, simply say something like “You know, that’s a very interesting question, but it doesn’t quite fit with what we’re doing here. Can you write that down and put it in the parking lot, so we can get to it later?” Then you can either address those questions at the end of class, the beginning of the next class or even on your LMS or email.
The nice thing about this is it prevents you from forgetting to address a question. If you implement this routine, you’ll have a physical reminder that you can grab to keep you on track and make sure all your students’ questions get answered without getting off topic during class.