The Questions Matter More Than The Answers

Yesterday, I had the luxury of attending a dinner featuring Tony Wagner and Ben Daley. Both emphasized the  importance of teaching children to ask great questions rather than just teaching them the answers to mediocre questions.  When working with teachers and/or parents, I often express my frustration that the longer students stay in school, the less curious they seem to become. Young children are natural inquirers. Hang out with any 3 or 4 year old for more than 20 minutes and listen for their questions. It’s non-stop! Yet most children soon figure out that it’s the teachers who ask the questions and that there is usually only one right answer in they eyes of the teachers. The others keep asking and soon become perceived as behavioral problems.

Personally I think this is a travesty. Every child must learn how to ask great questions. Curiosity must by intentionally nurtured. I’m not talking about simple questions that beget yes or no responses.  Nor am I talking about only doing this with older children. We MUST be teaching each and every student from the time they start school  how to ask deep and meaningful questions.  There are a multitude of resources on how to encourage deep and effective question. Learning how to ask great questions yourself is a terrific start. I’ve started to put together a few resources on inquiry and questioning for the teachers I work with. 

Driving home from the dinner last night I started to consider how we might organize units of instruction around questions in order to promote deeper questioning. I started a list of questions that might promote some deeper thinking, questioning and engagement. Many of us learned the old “KWL” model – What do we know, What do we want to know? What did we learn? I always felt that using KWL never seemed to foster the type of engagement I was looking for. When I started to learn more about inquiry, I was exposed to the inquiry cycle which expands upon the KWL and which I enjoyed integrating into my teaching of both younger students and adults.  However, as my understanding of teaching and learning deepens, I find myself wanting different ways to approach designing units to help scaffold and organize learning for both teachers and for students.

  • What do we know about _____________? (fill in the blank…division, overpopulation, genetics, love, Shakespeare, staying healthy, the solar system, maps, explorers, immigration, poverty, storytelling, etc.)
  • What should we know about ______________ to understand it better? 
  • Why does knowing about ______________ matter?
  • How can we best discover more about ____________________?
  • How can we best organize what we are discovering/learning about______________?
  • How is what we are learning about _______________changing our previous perceptions/understandings?
  • How can we best share what we are learning?
  • Can we share it in a way that makes a difference?
  • What new questions do we have about _________________?
  • What do I know now about ________________ that I didn’t know before?
 I humbly offer this list up for discussion.  (and I’m sure there are many more out there that are much better!) Feel free to provide some feedback. 

One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. – Chinese Proverb

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