Asking Questions…

Picture a traditional classroom… What do you tend to hear the teaching saying, and the students responding to? You would often hear a lot of questioning… by the teacher… and a lot of (or maybe not so much) answering… by the students. Probably you would see a lot of hands flying up by mostly the same kids every time.

So let’s flip that around a bit! At BEPS we value curiosity and inquiry – a sort of intellectual playing and learning. To be curious surely requires students be the ones to ask the questions?

According to the book A More Beautiful Question, one David Hacket Fischer (Pulitzer Prize winning historian) sad that “questions are the engines of intellect – cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.” How perfect is that for our school’s beliefs?

Later in the same book, the author discusses how pre-schoolers, then primary children, then high school children are conditioned to ask less and less questions as they get more and more entrenched in institutions where filling students with knowledge, and taking knowledge tests, is more valued than curiosity and inquiry. He describes how questioning literally falls off a cliff!

The problem is, as kids stop questioning, they simultaneously become less engaged in school… There may be a relationship between students asking questions and their being engaged and interested in learning. – Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question, 2014

BEPS has long encouraged the development of questions to set forth an inquiry topic. The inclusion of philosophy in the weekly program helps to embed this as well.

This year, however, the Su Nei Cieli learning community decided to take a closer look at questions, and What Makes a Good Question. We wanted to see if someone who visited the LC could wonder around and hear at least as many students asking questions, as teachers. And we wanted students to be able to ask a range of questions, including the critical, philosophical, inquiry questions.

As you may have heard in our three-way conferences, Su Nei Cieli has been investigating concepts around evolution. We took a side step during term 2 to work on developing good questions, and you may also have had your child talk you through the “What Makes a Good Question Rubric”.

Now in term 3, we have turned our attention back to the evolution inquiry, and students have used all that they have learnt about questions to create their Evolution Inquiry Question. Here are some examples:

What if Earth evolved so that there are only 1000 humans left, what could it be like? – Anna


What effect has pollution had on the evolution of animals and humans? – Daphne


How have diseases and cures progressed over time? – Ethan


How have story lines, genres, and the technology of movies evolved over time? – Gabe


How would the world be different if all humans followed a paleo/cave man diet? – Lottie


What effect has the evolution of writing had on human existence? – Roma

There’s some really interesting thinking in those questions! And there’s many more like them in our LC.

Our next step will be to position each of our questions on a thinking tool called The Question Quadrant.

Here’s our giant Question Quadrant, ready to accept students’ questions:

2017-08-09 15.22.14

Each quadrant describes a different type of question, and takes kids deeper than simply describing questions as Open or Closed. It is a useful tool, to help us know how we might go about answering questions, and the kinds of answers we expect to get.

  • Closed Text Questions – Answers are found by observing or comprehending. eg. “Was it Jack or Jill that broke their crown?”
  • Closed World Questions – Answers are found by doing scientific or social research. eg. “What are other ways people get water?”
  • Open Text Questions – These are speculative questions and could have many different possible answers. Usually they start with “What If…” eg. “What if Jack and Jill had access to tap water?”
  • Open World Questions – Answers to these tend to be philosophical in nature. eg. “Is anything really ever an accident?”

(You might note that traditionally, teacher questioning in schools generally fit mostly into the ‘Closed Text’ quadrant.)

The challenge will now be for students to work out how they might come up with an answer to their question. Although each has their own question to answer, they will work in small teams to develop their ideas, share knowledge, and support each other to find a solution, or a range of possible solutions.

Encourage your son or daughter to ask you questions about their question. And be encouraged to ask them questions about their question! Help them think and make sense of what they find out.

We’ll let you know how we’re going. Look out for a day in term 4 to visit and see what we all came up with! And maybe soon you will hear, as you walk through the learning community, lots of different questions, asked by young and old.

A final note from A More Beautiful Question… Don’t be afraid to change your question – even to ratchet it down a notch. (that might happen to some of ours!) You may also wish to expand it, broaden it, or possibly add pieces into it, turning it into a compound question (which can be a clunky yet beautiful thing). Be sure to take it on a walk, and to the museum. Create time and space for inspiration, … which comes in unexpected waves. Don’t be put off by learning how much you don’t know. That darkness has always been out there, surrounding you; you just had no idea how vast it was until you began probing it with a flashlight. Questioners learn to love that great unknown!

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