Asking the Right Question.

Teaching photography and design has been one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had my entire career. I have a good eye, but translating that “eye” into words that my students can apply to their work doesn’t always happen.

Fridays are “Photo Fridays”: we take a break from whatever project we’re working on, and I give the students an assignment from the app “OK DO THIS.” This past Friday’s assignment was for students to “See the world in black and white” and take a photo that utilized light and contrast, shooting in the black and white setting on the camera.

I sent my students out to “go forth and be brilliant,” as I tell them, and five minutes later, two students returned. Five minutes of shooting photos and they were done. So I asked to see the photos.

They did not, shall we say, meet minimum standards.

So I gave some feedback about why the photos didn’t work and asked them to go back out and take at least 10 photos with a renewed focus (no pun intended). Then another couple of students came in, showed me their photos (which I also wasn’t jazzed about), and it hit me: me telling them what the problem is might not be good enough.

So instead, I said I wasn’t wild about the photos and followed up with, “Why don’t I like this photo?”

And every time I asked the question, my students were able to tell me what was wrong with the photo. They left to reshoot, and when they came back, every student who had to retake had beautiful photos.

I teach my journalism students to avoid yes or no questions like the plague. Yet I often ask “Do you understand?” Students usually answer yes to this question, but on Friday, their work wasn’t supporting their answer to that question. When I switched the question to “Why don’t I like this photo?” or “What do you see that might be problematic in this photo?” they demonstrated how much they understood.

Once I asked the right question, I saw immediate improvement, and I’m confident that next Friday, my students will take much better photos without as much direction from me.


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