As a preschool teacher, I have been on the receiving end of my fair share of questions. With predominantly English learners, questions come at me in a variety of formats: “What is this?” or “Zhè shì shénme?” In time, they add: “Why?” or “Wèishéme?”
I have been reflecting on the power of questions as I dive into Warren Bergers book A More Beautiful Question (2014). Questions drive every moment of our lives from “What is the best route to take to the grocery store at this time of day?” to “Why are our third graders falling behind in comprehension?” In the workplace, the types of questions we ask determines where we dedicate our precious time. Individual questions drive our personal goals and how we allocate our time, while group meetings generate questions which drive strategic planning and resource allocation. As I reflected on my own experience in school meetings, I was struck by Berger’s (2014) statement that, “if the questions from leaders and managers focus more on Why are we falling behind competitors? and Who is to blame?, then the organization is more likely to end up with a culture of turf-guarding and finger-pointing.” How many hours have we wasted in pursuit of the wrong question? In the process of pursuing the wrong question, precious time is lost and morale slips as members point fingers and assign blame.
So, how do we ask better questions?
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia captures one component of this in Individual Knowledge and the Digital Age (2010) stating that “you need knowledge in order to know what questions to ask.” He argues that a liberal arts education provides the breadth and depth of content knowledge necessary for asking questions. Once a knowledge base is established, where do we head next? Luz Santana and Dan Rothstein of Right Question Institute have developed a guide for questioning. They identify seven steps:
Learning to think about what you know, what you don’t know, and what you want to know should begin when children are young and curious about their world. It is my responsibility as an educator to help them keep track of their questions and empower them to pursue answers to the ones that are personally meaningful.
My school environment is set up for inquiry, but as an educator, I need to do a better job writing down the questions they ask- modeling writing skills, but also assigning value to their questions by writing them down. As we discuss next steps, I also need to help children understand what resources are available to answer their question, rather than serving as a human encyclopedia. A common question in a preschool day is “What are we doing next?” Rather than maintaining control of the information myself, I can instead point children to a class book about the school day, show them the photo schedule on the wall, or encourage them to ask a friend. The natural curiosity of a preschooler means that this period is the perfect time to begin laying the foundation of how to move beyond the question to gathering information from the resources around you. This will serve them well as they grow, extending the scope of questions, and begin to make use of richer resources.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. Steps of the question formulation technique (QFT) & video guide [word document]. Accessed from www.rightquestion.org
Sanger, L. (2010, April 15). Individual knowledge in the internet age. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(2), 14-24. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2010/4/individual-knowledge-in-the-internet-age