Ask. Don’t Tell.

By: Megan Prats



While developing the student’s critical thinking skills, it is imperative that you remember the following phrase – Ask.  Don’t Tell.  Ask refers to guiding the student to the answer via a series of questions when you see that the student cannot navigate her critical thinking skills on her own to get to the answer.  Don’t Tell refers to not making the connections for the student in the problem- solving process because when you do, the student does not learn. It is okay to tell the student information when you are providing the student with substance for the lesson, but for problem- solving (critical thinking) development, telling is an adversary to learning.

How you can apply this concept in your lessons while developing the student’s critical thinking skills is like all things in learning – simple on the surface and complex under the surface. I will describe this process by using a simple example and then you can use your critical thinking skills to extrapolate the ideas from this article and optimally apply them to your lessons in a more customized fashion.


Step 1: Present the student with a problem or task that requires critical thinking.

This problem should be selected in accordance with the student’s customized curriculum in the sense that you should be giving the student critical thinking development tasks in accordance with the student’s wants and needs. Thus, if the student needs to develop creativity in order to write a composition for the guitar, you should focus on providing the student with problems that involve creativity to solve.


Step 2: The student gets stuck.

Once you provide the student a problem that involves critical thinking, the student runs into a mental roadblock and cannot move forward in the analysis. The reasons for this mental roadblock could be vast, such as: the student needs more substance, the student didn’t make a connection that she needed to make previously to solve the present problem, the student doesn’t believe that she can solve the problem, the student didn’t pay attention to the problem when it was given to her, etc. It is important to identify the reason why the student cannot move forward in the analysis because the questions that you provide her to guide her to the answer should touch upon the reason why she cannot go ahead.


Step 3: Guide the student to the answer via a series of questions.

Think of the next phase of critical thinking development as you are giving the student directions as to how to get to the next town on the map but in order to get the student there, you have to ask the student a series of questions instead of just explaining the steps to her. Thus, say for instance, the reason why the student’s creative juices stopped flowing in composing her piece for the guitar was because she didn’t understand the concept of time in music. Thus, you should start asking the student a series of questions so that she can understand how time in music functions so that she can appropriately compose her piece. Below is an example of the series of questions that you can ask her:

What is time in music?

How do we find the information in the sheet music as to what time in music is?

What is a time signature?

What does the bottom number of the time signature mean?

What does the top number of the time signature mean?

What is the tempo of the song?


Step 4: Student makes connections.

Once the student successfully navigates the aforementioned questions, the student has made the connections between time in music and composing a song on the guitar for herself and thus the student has LEARNED how time in music and guitar compositions are related.

Ask. Don’t Tell. simply means that your job in critical thinking development is to ask the student a series of questions to guide the student to the answer. Patience is Key in this aspect of learning because if you get impatient and tell the student the answer without allowing the student to make the connections for herself, you have failed the student because the student hasn’t LEARNED that which you are trying to teach her. And we, at 2learn®, focus on learning because when you “give a man a fish he eats for a day, but when you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.”

© Megan Prats 2013

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