Have you ever set aside 5 minutes to just ask questions? Starting with one question and just writing down all of the questions that come to mind for 5 minutes? Before this week I had never tried it either, but now that I have I think it is a good practice. The picture above is the end result of my 5 minutes of questioning. I started with a question about inquiry (or questioning), and at the end of 5 minutes, I had created a board of questions that have the potential to dramatically change the way I teach.
Keeping myself focused on writing down questions regularly for 5 minutes was tough. I really struggled at first to think of more questions, but then they started to flow a little more freely. By the end, I was so focused I jumped when the timer went off. I’m a curious person, and I think I ask an average number of questions on a given day. I ask questions of my students to guide them toward answers, or to encourage curiosity, but also to check for their understanding of the current topic. I ask questions of my colleagues. I direct questions at my children when I pick them up from after-school care to inquire about their day, their learning, their plans for the evening. However, in general, I never ask as many questions in a row as I did during this 5-minute exercise.
To prepare for the exercise, I first read a portion of Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.” In his book he suggests that all of the great “changemakers” have one thing in common, “they were exceptionally good at asking questions” (Berger, p. 1). Questions are powerful because they help us learn, they challenge us to think, and they lead us to new discoveries. It’s human nature to be curious and ask questions, and in childhood, we ask an extraordinary number of questions. That begins to disappear as we age and it’s unclear why. It might be because questioning is such a part of us that we take it for granted. It could also be that we’re taught not to ask questions via our school experiences.
Unfortunately, in our schools and even workplaces, we don’t encourage people to ask questions. In many cases, we actively discourage it. Some teachers discourage questioning because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Others because there isn’t enough time to cover all of the required curricula if they veer off in search of answers. This is unfortunate because “as kids stop questioning, they simultaneously become less engaged in school” (Berger, p 45).
In Berger’s book there is a section heading that says, “Can a school be built on questions?” (p. 50) and in the margin, I have written in big bold letters I WANT TO WORK THERE! It just makes so much sense to encourage our children to ask more questions, not less. I’m completely hooked on this idea. All of my questions from the 5 minutes were related to structuring my teaching around inquiry. Upfront it seems like a logistical nightmare. There are 24 students per class, and we don’t have the resources (stoves, sinks, mixers, etc.) or the budget to go in 24 different directions. It might mean letting go of some control in the classroom because if the teacher asks all of the questions they hold all the power. However, it has worked for others so why couldn’t it work in my classroom as well?
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Berger’s book and exploring his website. My future reading is piling up as I just purchased a book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, founders of the “Right Question Institute,” who were written about by Berger. I’m sure this will just help me create more questions.
Berger, Warren. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.