One of the brightest minds I know is a guy named Evan Sharp. I had the chance to meet Evan at Educon this year and his drive to wrestle with big ideas was instantly contagious.
At one point over the last year, Evan shared this cartoon with me.
Go ahead and read it.
Really. I want you to read it.
It’s interesting, right? And it has me thinking this morning. In fact, it’s stirred up a bunch of provocative questions that have been sitting in the back of my mind.
Here’s just a few:
Do school cultures teach kids to treasure answers or to collect questions?
We know the answer to this one, don’t we? Knowledge driven curricula and high-stakes, fact-based end of grade exams have placed a high priority on answers and a low priority on questions.
Ask the kids in your classroom two questions. Tell them that you are going to grade the first and the second is just for fun. See which one they tackle first/work hardest on.
How will a “treasuring answers” attitude towards learning help and/or harm students in today’s world?
I’ll admit it: I’m SUPER skeptical about the “treasuring answers” approach to learning that we’ve taken in the last few decades in American schools.
I think it was a function of easy accountability instead of an attempt to truly prepare students to be successful in life. And I think kids who treasure answers will struggle with the one skill that Seymour Papert identified as essential for being competitive in today’s world: Knowing how to act in situations for which you were not specifically prepared.
Treasuring answers feels like rehearsal to me. “What am I going to be asked — and how do others want me to answer those questions?”
Collecting questions feels like discovery to me. “What can I find that no one else has considered before — and why are those new discoveries important to me and to the people around me?”
But IS there a place for treasuring answers in school? SHOULD we be preparing kids with a solid foundation of basic information that they can draw on and from? More importantly, is it possible to ask good questions if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic information to draw from?
What’s the right balance between treasuring answers and collecting questions?
What steps can we take to create learning spaces where the questions that kids ask are perceived as just as valuable as answers that they give?
Maybe this is an easy fix. Maybe teachers should just create time and space for their kids to ask and answer their own questions in class. Kind of like the Wonder Question project that I started tinkering with last year.
Or maybe we need to begin educating parents — who often have traditional views of schooling based on their own experiences in classrooms decades ago — about the tension between treasuring answers and collecting questions.
Maybe we need to do a better job identifying (and eliminating) the nonessentials in our curricula to create time and space for questioning.
Or maybe we should start grading questions.
(That was a joke, people!)
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