Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are there ever enough questions?

I have always loved questions. At times, I remember people telling me to stop asking so many questions. Sometimes people seem to fear questions because they worry that they are being questioned. Instead, the process or desired product are the subject of my questions. As a mother, I have to admit that hearing "why" for the sixth time in a row from my two year old can have a grating effect. Yet, I do know that my daughter truly wonders. Shouldn't we encourage as much wonder as possible in our students?

How many times have we had a speaker in an assembly ask at the end of a presentation, "any questions?" When no hands go up, one can hear the collective squeaking of faculty seats as they shift while praying someone will ask a question. When students respond to a question I pose in class, I often respond with another question. I want them to see the value of mining further. I hope that by modelling this they will "push" each other. I welcome their efforts to ask questions of each other in class. At that point the discussion becomes vibrant and evolving.

These days it is so easy to access information. It is crucial, then, that we model to students and teach them how to develop questions. Information alone can have limited value. If, and when, students learn to develop questions, they learn to burrow down for deeper meaning, regardless of the topic. A recent article in the Harvard Education Review focused on the importance of Teaching Students how to ask their own questions. The article includes one method for teaching how to develop questions. We can model other methods, too.

Learning how to develop thoughtful questions can help with innovation and more creative problem-solving. Students should not be satisfied simply with answers but, with the creation of new approaches and new experiences.  To create, we must wonder and ask "how", "why", "what if."  As pointed out in Learning in a Digital Age, there is "a need to promote creative approaches to learning. How do we prepare students for work that hasn't been invented yet? .... Our global environmental, economic and social challenges require non-standardized skills such as creativity, problem-solving and collaboration. Accordingly, these are becoming indispensable skills for learners and workers who hope to stay at the innovative edge of today and tomorrow."  Memorization or regurgitation of facts do not move us forward. Questions do. Questions drive possibilities. Don't they?


  1. Beth,
    When you said:
    "To create, we must wonder and ask "how", "why", "what if.""
    I was nodding my head in agreement---
    Questions do drive possibilities -- I'm thinking they open doors to opportunities for new vast learning landscapes.
    You mention the Harvard Review Article as one method for helping students become questioners and that there are others; are you using a specific model in your classroom? or one that you have adapted? Which of those with which you are familiar do you prefer?

  2. Lani- thank you for your reply. I do not use a specific model in my classes. I was raised being encouraged to ask questions. It has become second-nature to me. Whether assigning current events presentations or major projects, I ask students to develop clear questions that they are trying to address. We talk through the effectiveness of their questions.