What are anonymous question cards you ask? Well, they are pretty much exactly what they sound like – cards where students write their questions, without revealing their identity. This is a popular tactic used by many sexuality educators (and educators of other disciplines) as a way to enable students to ask questions, without having to feel “awkward” or “embarrassed” in front of their peers.
While there are a couple of different ways to execute this, here is the method I prefer:
- After providing the outline for the lesson and going over ground rules, pass out blank index cards (and writing utensils – optional)
- Ask students to write down any questions they have on the subject. For instance, if you are teaching about puberty, ask them to write down any questions they have about puberty, or any questions they want to make sure are addressed by the end of class.
- Tell students if they do not have any questions, to write down “I do not have any questions” three times on the index card. This part is key because it makes sure all students are writing something. Doesn’t it kind of nullify the whole point of anonymous cards if everyone can see who is writing questions?
- Ask students to fold their index card in half when they are finished. You can then either ask them to raise their hand and you will come and collect it (so that they can’t look at the students who are still writing as they walk past them) or have them bring it up. You can also wait until everyone is finished and pass around a container for students to deposit their question cards in.
Once you have collected the cards, there are a couple different options as to how you address them. Some educators prefer to take them home to sort through and then answer them at the start of the next class. This option allows you to sort through and discard all of the “I do not have any questions” cards, as well as any that are inappropriate (in a way that is disruptive and not relevant) and/or looking to test boundaries. That being said, it is very important to keep in mind the legitimacy of a question that could be considered inappropriate, but I will get to that in a minute. This method is also good for researching any questions you might not be able to answer off the top of your head ahead of time, so you are fully prepared to answer them next class.
Some educators may only have access to their group of students once, so taking the cards home might not be an option. In this case, they have the choice of immediately answering questions or reserving some time at the end of class to answer the questions. I prefer the latter for a couple of reasons:
- Many questions tend to be on things that were addressed during the lesson, so reading the question and asking if someone is able to answer it is a good way to assess student learning.
- If the students can be engaged in an activity without a lot of supervision on your part, you can take this time during class to sift through the cards, setting aside all of the ones that say “I do not have any questions.”
- You can use answering their cards as an incentive to keep the class on track (e.g. “if you guys keep talking and not listening I am not going to have time to answer the question cards“). This is usually not as useful when working with adults.
If you choose to address the question cards at the start of class (before the lesson), make sure you budget your time accordingly – you don’t want to devote the entire class time to answering questions and miss getting to the lesson. As mentioned above, many questions tend to be on things that will be addressed during the lesson, so you can defer these these by saying “this is a great question! We will be discussing this when we get to ____ (reference the outline you previously provided) so if we’ve discussed _____ and the question is still unanswered please remind me and I will answer it.”
Things to keep in mind
- Yes, the “sometimes my penis becomes hard while I am sitting in class – what should I do?” question may be in there for laughs or to fluster/embarrass the instructor, but there is no reason why this question cannot be used as an opportunity to talk about erections.
- Related, never laugh at or shame a student’s question – no matter how ridiculous it might seem (also keeping in mind your facial expressions/reactions!). Sometimes questions are phrased in a certain way because the student has no other language for it, or is just genuinely confused.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, be transparent. If you are going to see them again, tell them you will look into it and get back to them (and follow through!). If you will not see them again, try to give them some resources so they can find answers on their own.
- Let them know that you won’t be able to get to every question, and if they have a pressing question you will make yourself available after class.
- Tell students you will only skip over a card if it says “I do not have any questions.” If you do skip over a question because you think it is inappropriate, make sure students do not see – otherwise that diminishes their trust (this is the benefit of sorting through questions ahead of time).
Why I love this method
- It is a fantastic tool educators can use with a vast array of student populations. It is appropriate for students of different age groups and learning styles.
- It is a great tool for getting a sense of what your students want to know for future curriculum development and revisions. Similarly, it can serve as a visual representation to administrators and school boards as a way of advocating for more/different sexuality education curricula.
- By giving them time and discrete space to ask any questions they have, disruptive or off-subject questions that might shouted out and distract from the lesson are reduced.
- It helps elicit questions from students who may not otherwise ask questions or participate due to fear or embarrassment – it gives all students questions equal value.
- Requires that students be able to write/write in the language of the instructor.
- There is usually not enough time to answer all the questions.
- Handwriting can indicate who wrote the question – not completely anonymous.
- Handwriting can be hard to read or the question could be vague, making it difficult to understand and answer the question with no opportunity for follow-up.