For the better part of the last week, I’ve been consumed with the notion that one of my primary responsibilities as a teacher is to encourage student questioning in my classroom.
My thinking is being driven by Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question and by the work of the Right Question Institute, who both argue that innovation and creativity depend on one’s ability to ask killer questions.
As a follow-up to a conversation that we had in class last week, I had my students do some written reflection on questioning yesterday. Specifically, I asked my students:
How often do you ask questions in class? Why is that? What affects your willingness to ask questions in class?
While many of their comments mirrored thoughts shared last week, two new themes appeared that have me rethinking my classroom practices again:
“I try to ask questions a lot, but half the time Mr. Ferriter doesn’t take questions.”
Talk about a gut-punch, right? Especially given that this comment comes from one of my favorite students — a boy that is as curious about the natural world as any kid that I’ve taught in the last 20 years.
But I know he’s right. I don’t make enough room in class for questions. That has to change if I am truly committed to inspiring kids to always wonder.
But I can’t say I’m not worried about the consequences of turning time over to student questioning. It’s not that I don’t think my students will come up with interesting things to wonder about — it’s that I have a MASSIVE curriculum to cover before the end of grade exam that I’m held accountable for in June.
Turning time over to student questioning means I’ll struggle to cover required content before testing season begins — and struggling to cover required content leaves me at risk in a state where “evaluating teachers” is essentially synonymous with “ranking and sorting by nothing other than test scores” in the eyes of legislators.
So I guess I’m walking the moral tightrope again, huh?
“Sometimes I don’t ask a lot of questions because you answer almost all of them in class.”
That hurt too, y’all. It is evidence of crappy teaching in action. If I’m answering almost all of the questions that my kids have before they even get the chance to ask them, my instructional practices are literally preventing my students from becoming the barefoot, ragamuffin army I want them to be.
“Children are the research and development division of the human species,” child psychologist Alison Gopnik argues in Berger’s book. Stirring their creativity and curiosity depends on nothing more than teachers who diligently avoid the temptation to “teach too much, too soon.” What kids need most is the chance to develop their own questions and search for answers independently.
By creating a classroom environment where I’m answering all of the questions that my kids have, I’m “inadvertently cutting off paths of inquiry and exploration that kids might otherwise pursue on their own” (Berger, 2014, p. 43)
Do you think you’d get the same kinds of results if you surveyed your own students about the role that questioning plays in your classroom?
More importantly, anyone figured out ways to make student questioning a staple of the work that you do with kids?
Related Radical Reads:
Where Have All the Beautiful Questions Gone?
How Testing will Change What I Teach Next Year
Walking Moral Tightropes ISN’T a Reform Strategy