Coach more, instruct less

Whether you’re an experienced driving supervisor or new to the role, you probably have some ideas and preferences around how you think you can best help your learner. No doubt you want to keep your learner safer on the road and help them achieve six months on P-plates with zero harm, as a good foundation for lifelong safe driving. But how does that work in reality? What are some things you can do to help make that happen?

An important part of using the Keys2drive approach as a supervisor is to think of yourself as a driving coach, who does more ‘asking’ than ‘telling’.

In simple terms, instructors (for anything, not just driving) tend to tell while coaches tend to ask. With the Keys2drive learning approach you mostly have to be an ‘asker’ (rather than a ‘teller’). Telling a person something is one-way communication and will not help you or them discover what they have learned and are yet to learn.

The single most important skill for coaching, and using the Keys2drive learning approach, is the ability to use questions well. So, if you want to develop your coaching skills, a good place to start is to review how well you use questions. 

The following is a simple guide to using questions well. Further down the page you’ll also see a questioning tool you can use to assess yourself and explore your questioning strengths and weaknesses.

QUESTION YOUR QUESTIONING

A good way to improve how you use questions is to question your own technique. You can begin by asking this question of yourself: ‘What was (or is) the coaching purpose of my question or questions?’ Usually, you can learn much through finding an honest answer to this one question. It’s also likely to lead you to ask more questions of yourself, such as: ‘How well did it achieve its purpose? If not, why not?’ (There is much potential for learning in the last question.)

USE MOSTLY OPEN-LEARNING QUESTIONS

Open-learning questions lead to discovery. They begin with words like what, how, why, when, and where. Some statements also work like open questions. You might begin by saying, ‘Please explain what, how, why, when and where something happened’.

Or you might say, ‘Talk me through why’… or, ‘Please help me understand why’… or, ‘Please tell me more about what…’

Most coaches use open questions most of the time because the learner must go through a thinking process to work out the answer. For example, consider the thought needed to answer the question, ‘How have you come to decide this is the distance you should be from the car in front of us?’ Contrast this with a closed question such as, ‘Are you a safe distance from the car in front of us?’ You can see from that example that the first (open) question will lead to the learner having to put more thought into the answer.

USE CLOSED QUESTIONS WELL

Closed questions can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type responses. They begin with words like, is, are, did, does, should, shall, could, would, will, was, can, and were. They’re useful if you want to narrow the answer you seek or make a response easier for a learner. Sometimes you might ask a closed question to make it easier for yourself and not the learner. Did you think before you asked it? Were you pushing for a specific answer? Was there a good reason for seeking a yes or no answer? If you answered yes to these closed questions, then maybe you used the questions well. If you answered no, what can you learn from this?

TIPS ON USING QUESTIONS AS A SUPERVISOR

  • Mostly use open questions and work out ways to improve them
  • Use closed questions mostly when you want to narrow the response
  • Genuinely listen to answers
  • Use open questions in response to answers when you want to increase understanding
  • Train learners in how to ask their own open-learning questions and respond encouragingly
  • If open questions lead to too much frustration, try a different approach
  • Feel OK not using questions if that’s best for the learning situation.

DEVELOP YOUR QUESTIONING SKILLS

As a driving supervisor, would you say you’re more a teller or an asker? The Keys2drive approach requires you to be an asker – you use questions as your main means of helping your learner learn how to find their own way.

The following is a questioning tool you can use to assess how well you’re using questions and to guide your self-improvement.

To use the questioning tool:

  • Study it and take a copy along to your next practice session
  • Every time you or your learner asks a question, keep score in the runnning tally. Add up your results at the end
  • You're doing well if you mostly ask open-learning questions, you do little telling, your learner asks you questions too and your closed questions support learning.

QUESTIONING TOOL

My involvement                 Running tally                           Total
Telling learner what to do    
Open-learning questions    
Open question following answer    
Answering a question with a question    
Helpful closed questions    
Unhelpful closed questions    
Learner's involvement    
Open-learning questions    
Open question following answer    
Helpful closed questions    
Unhelpful closed questions    

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

  • When I used closed questions, in what ways was this best for learning?
  • What did I learn from putting open questions to my learner?
  • In what ways could I improve my use of open questions?
  • What were the signs that showed I was listening closely to the answers?
  • What showed that my student felt comfortable with how I used questions?

Keys2drive is an Australian Government-funded program providing learner drivers and their parents/supervisors a free driving lesson with a Keys2drive accredited professional driving instructor