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I like to ask questions during class. And I like to clarify them, and sometimes "challenge" the teacher's answer or argue/discuss further. But when I do it in class, I have to raise my voice so that the teacher can hear me. My friend once told me that my classmates have been talking about how I seem rude to the teacher. The teacher never looks affected, and is always happy to clarify my doubts. However my friends keep thinking that I am trying to prove the teacher wrong.

I have tried speaking softer, but the teacher can't hear me. I always smile, and I don't do any rude gestures. But then my friends think that I'm bragging and now people from other classes think I'm really boastful.

For example: I was arguing about whether we should be marked down for observations in a chemistry practical. The situation was that I was arguing for my friend whose results were different from everyone else and he claimed that he did the steps correctly. My other friend said maybe the substances they gave us were spoilt. This other friend also started this argument, and I was supporting the point. I said:

We write what we see, so it isn't really our fault that the observations are wrong. There are always some exceptions.

I really don't mean to be rude or anything, and I really hate it when my friends tell me to stop being rude and stop arguing with the teacher. I'm only trying to clarify doubts.

How do I ask questions and argue in a way that I am not being rude?

  • 5
    Which country? What you describe would have been pretty normal at my school, and lead to severe problems in some authoritarian country. – gnasher729 May 3 at 8:10
  • Maybe it has to do with the way you formulate your questions ? Even if your goal is indeed just to clarify doubt and genuinely improve your knowledge, some word choices may seem like you are confronting the teacher. Also, if you keep being pressured by your classmates, an alternate solution would be to take note of your questions during class, and come to see the teacher after for a 1 on 1 explanation. – Aserre May 3 at 8:44
  • In my school/country it is normal. Aserre, if let's say I'm arguing about whether we should be marked down for observations in a chemistry practical, what should I say? I said: We write what we see, so it isn't really our fault that the observations are wrong. There are always some exceptions. (The situation was that I was arguing for my friend whose results were different from everyone else and he claims that he did the steps correctly. My other friend said maybe the substances they gave us were spoilt. He also started it first, and I was supporting the point). Thank you for the other point. – Osprey May 3 at 10:05
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Oh boy I definitely empathize with you on this.

Back when I was in college I used to love asking difficult questions to the professors. They'd be explaining an algorithm and turn to find me with my hand up wondering what's preventing things from breaking in the special case of XYZ. There was one time where one of my favorite professors--after one such question--remarked, "Maybe I should just take all the questions scohe001 asks and use them for the exam."

Needless to say I got a lot of dirty looks and cold shoulders from my classmates in those lectures of 100+ people.

However, as I moved up through the years I started to become a little better. If I could give some advice to my younger self looking back, it'd be to think about

The price of a question

Your class meets for maybe 5 hours (300 minutes) a week. If a single question takes 5 minutes to ask/answer and you only ask 6 questions in a given week, that's 10% of class time that week that was dedicated to answering your questions!

When I felt the burning need to ask a pertinent question, I'd take a second to ask myself: will this question benefit the whole class? Or just me/a specific person?

If the latter, I'd strongly suggest you...

Write your question down to ask your teacher later

I even started keeping a spot in my notes for daily questions!

Not only does this let everyone else cover more information while not having the flow of class broken by tangents, it also allows the teacher to give you a tailored answer for you. Maybe there are some things they don't want to say or bring up in front of the class so as not to confuse everyone, but they'll give you a more complete answer in person.

Even if a question may benefit the whole class, if I thought the answer may be more nuanced or take longer to explain than a few sentences, I'd still suggest writing it in your notebook and asking it later.

Remember, questions are good for learning, but...

Some questions are only good for your learning. And by taking up time and breaking the flow, they may actually harm the learning of the rest of the class. It's important to distinguish between questions that will benefit everyone vs. questions that will only benefit you or a minority. I'd strongly suggest thinking about this before asking your questions.

  • Sometimes I'm not sure if my question is a good question or not (if it's good, the teacher would repeat it to the whole class, if it's only for my learning, he would answer me himself). Before actually asking the question, is there any way to know if it's creative and giving new ideas or just thinking too far? – Osprey May 4 at 14:36
  • @Osprey when determining whether to ask a question in class or save it for a one-on-one chat with the teacher later, it’s not a matter of whether the question is “good.” I’d say any question that takes more than a sentence or two to answer may be too much for in class (and if it’s a question that would help everyone that would take longer to answer, like a big misunderstanding, someone else in the class will probably ask it!). Between time-to-answer and how tangent from the class curriculum your question is, you should be able to evaluate whether it’ll be better asked now or later. – scohe001 May 4 at 19:39
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It's not easy to know how loud you should be to have others understand you, expecially from a certain distance.
Then there are people who underestimate their voice or vary their volume too much and toggle between too soft and too loud. If your classmates remind you of being too loud, perhaps you really are.

Watch yourself speaking. Ask family or friends to tell you if you were too loud when talking to them in the last minutes.

If you are having someone's attention in the moment, you have a good situation to experiment. Play with your volume. Start a little softer than usual and see what happens. Your counterpart will ask you to repeat what you said if you were too soft.

If the other person understands you then you know it's excellent like you talked right now. There is no need to be louder next time.
If the person ask you to repeat and maybe explicitely tells you it was too soft then you know. If it's the teacher, even better because your classmates also see what's going on.

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