As a teacher of an inquiry-based program, questions are – or should be – at the heart of our classroom. We recently had a parent come in to give a workshop on presentations and the thing he shared with the kids as his number one tip: “Ask questions!”. When you ask a question, you engage your audience and you immediately set brains to work. Think of some of your best lessons – did they start with a factual monologue from you or were they sparked by a question? Asking great questions and learning how to be in charge of your questions to further your learning is one of those 21st Century classroom skills that I think can sometimes be overlooked. You don’t need an iPad or a laptop, you just need to be consciously engaged, curious and willing to ask questions that you don’t have answers for – yet!
From the website 12Most came the following list of the 12 Most Genius Questions:
1. How can we make it /each other better?
2. How do we know this to be so?
3. Is this what is needed most?
4. What is it we hope to accomplish and what’s stopping us?
5. What are we most proud of?
6. What is possible?
7. When can we start?
8. How will we prevent failure?
9. Who/how can we make this happen?
10. What do we regret most?
11. How can we make the best use of…?
12. What if we…(Dream big!)
In the video that accompanies this post, the lead teacher encourages the children to be “in charge” of questions. What does being in charge of questions look like:
- you ask lots of questions
- you never stop asking questions
- you ask different questions
- you become unafraid to ask more questions
She then goes on to have the students practice the difference between statements and questions. Instead of “I see a pink balloon” = “How do they get balloons in a heart shape?”. She uses Where Do Balloons Go? by Jamie Lee Curtis to further her investigation into becoming in charge of questions. The teacher asks the children to focus on the learner in the book and to hold up a finger for every question that she asks. At the end of the reading, she tells the students that while she loved the book, she thought the learner in the story was fantastic – a superstar learner. As a group, they agreed she was a superstar learner because:
- she knew how to find things out by asking questions
- she studied and investigated the same topic
- she kept “digging deeper and deeper” – using her questions like a shovel to go deeper
- she never stopped asking questions
- she asked so many different questions
In her article, “Asking Questions: Cultivating a Habit of Inquiry”, author Evelyn Wortsman Deluty shares the following story:
When asked why he became a scientist, the story goes, the physicist and Nobel laureate, Isidor Isaac Rabi, speaks about his childhood on the streets of New York City at the beginning of the last century. He grew up in a devoutly Jewish home, the son of impoverished immigrant parents. Steeped in a religious tradition that values learning, his mother, who had little formal education, would inquire about his school day. Yet contrary to many parents who might try to discern what a child did or learned that day in school, Rabi’s mother would inquire: “Did you ask a good question today?” Rabi’s mother indirectly initiated him into the habit of inquiry that nurtured his scientific journey because she understood that the roots of learning are cultivated by a mindset that emphasizes the active process of questioning rather than the passive recitation of facts.
She goes on to add that “the ability to ask reflective question is at the root of all change and progress”. It is an almost three page article and very much worth your time to read it.
So how do we go about encouraging more, better and different questions in our classrooms – and what do we do with these questions once they have been asked? One option would be to check out the Right Question Institute. They have a lot of resources (look under the Educator tab – free to sign up). You will need to do a little reading on the subject but the resources below should give you a fairly quick idea as to wether or not this is something you are going to pursue. The first is a basic outline of the steps you would go through. This is a brief summary of a longer explanation of the six stages of the Question Formulation Technique
The second is a list of ‘rules’ to be distributed to kids whilst they work on their questions. Ultimately, the aim to get more questions, generated by your kids, buzzing around in your classroom.