With the rise of the internet and powerful “knowing” systems like Google, the world is changing rapidly. The value of knowledge is changing. When you can ask Siri, knowing general facts is no longer required to be successful in a given field; you can look up that type of information quickly and easily (or rather, an AI can). It is no longer a viable option to train in a specialized field, and stay static with your knowledge and skills in you’re chosen career. If you want to keep up in this world, you need to develop the ability to question the world around you, and use those questions to focus on what problems are relevant, so that you may start to develop an understanding of how to go about addressing those problems. We’ve transitioned to a world where application of knowledge is a much more valuable skill than just “knowing.” In his book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger suggest that, “questioning is more important today than it was yesterday–and will be even more important tomorrow–in helping us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to get there” (Berger, 2014). This presents us with a powerful question, “How do we push our students to be questioners of the world around them?”
If you’re reading this, chances are you have some experience working with children. Depending on the age you work with, you can understand how difficult it can be to engage students in meaningful conversations; where students challenge their’s and their peers’ existing knowledge. As a junior high science teacher, this is a challenge that I encounter and pursue daily. Because of the nature of junior high, and the social pressures that exist at that age, getting students to honestly share what they know can be extremely difficult. I have found this to be true, even if classroom stressors, such as grades, are removed from the equation. One idea presented in A More Beautiful Question is that you shift the focus of brainstorming from what students know, to having them think only in questions. The research around this idea was done by Dan Rothstein, of the Right Question Institute, and it seems like it can have a profound effect on how students begin the think and participate in the classroom.
Rothstein suggests that by brainstorming with only questions, “the floodgates of imagination seem to open up,” and that this strategy can, “switch people into the mode required to create anything new,” (Berger, 2014). By shifting the focus from knowledge to questions, essentially you are telling the students that it is okay to not know. Once your students realize it is okay to not know everything, they can relax, because they aren’t afraid of being seen as stupid or inadequate. Rather, students then can begin to focus on how they can go about pursuing what they don’t know. Questioning like this is powerful, because it forces you to not only identify what you don’t know, but also what is important, or worth investigating further (Berger, 2014).
By allowing students to pursue their learning based on the questions that they have deemed important, you give them ownership over what is happening in the classroom. Not only do the students benefit from increased motivation by being able to investigate what they find important, it also starts to shift the power dynamic of the classroom. It addresses the issue of “Who gets to ask questions?” This is important, because being able to question the status quo has typically been seen as a right reserved for those in positions of power, such as the teacher (Berger, 2014). By shifting the power of questioning to our students, we can help them develop a “habit” of learning and questioning (Berger, 2014). A habit that will be increasingly important if they wish to thrive in the 21st Century.
Berger, Warren. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
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