I asked my 6th graders if they remember asking a lot of questions when they were younger. They chimed in confirming that they had been a kid pulling on their mothers hand asking why and what about almost everything. So, what happened then? Why did it stop?
My inspiration for this post came from an article found here, A New Culture of Learning Interview, by Steve Denning (Forbes, 2011)
The article is an interview with the authors of A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (CreateSpace, 2011), Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. Some key elements stood out:
- Our way of assessment focusing on the answers is backwards. The questions are as important, if not more important, than the answers that students give. Questions show the way the students are thinking, and give key insights into their understanding.
- It is possible to learn how to ask better questions and how to create a classroom environment that fosters this skill; it is all about simply starting with asking a question, and knowing the goal is to ask better questions.
- Passion drives learning. If there is a point, then anyone can learn. But, if there is no point, as Denning remarks, no one will want to read the rules because there is no game. Learning must be fun.
After reading the Q&A, I want to find their book. But then, I sit back and think. If I consider the wise advice I have been given many times from mentors, I would see that I already knew deep down what these authors are getting at. I think we all know, but we are stuck inside boxes of habits that we do not see out of.
And why not let our focus be on the questions! They are so much more exciting and interesting. I grind my teeth every time I have to stop students from asking questions for fear we will go off topic and won’t complete the lesson planned. It feels backwards! Truthfully, I want them to ask more questions, especially as it is the foundation of science. It is the foundation of problem solving, of management, of understanding people – understanding my students.
One story always sticks in my head when I think about asking questions. At a training, the facilitator told her story of growing up with her father. Every day he asked her not what she learned in school that day, but rather what was the best question she asked. He fostered the habit in her to focus on asking the questions, not getting the answers. I discovered in a recent activity with my students that I can tell their level of understanding by the questions they created. If their questions are all lower level, then it says a lot about what they focused on.
In order to accomplish this, I will take the words of the authors as inspiration when they said “Every good teacher knows they can learn a lot from their students if they listen to them.”