Some questions about asking questions

“…most classrooms are characterised by a dearth of students questions and a deluge of student of teacher questions. Over a whole school year the average-rate of student generated questions is one per student per month. One child, having learned too well by observing his teacher, thought that you had to know the answer before you could ask a question.”

~ quoted from “What’s the point of schools?” by Guy Claxton

One of the key skills required to be an effective learner is to learn how to ask questions. Claxton proposes that students become more effective learners when they “grow more ready, more willing, and more able to ask good questions.” To do so students should be taught how to ask questions and also be made aware of the kinds of questions that should be employed on a given subject of discussion.

According to Claxton, the first dimension, that is to “grow more ready” is concerned with getting students “to be alert to the whole range of occasions when asking certain kinds of questions might be a good idea.” So students who ask questions in one class but don’t in others, may be encouraged to see these opportunities to ask questions in these other classes.

The second dimension, “to grow more willing”, is to help students “to be independent of external support and encouragement” to ask questions. No more prodding is needed and more importantly perhaps, the teacher creates an environment that is safe for questions and the teacher also gives time for questions.

The third dimension is concerned with helping students questions to become richer, more flexible and more sophisticated. It is these questions that will stretch their minds and they should be given plenty of room to practise this.

Singapore Educational Consultants Three storey IntellectTeachers can turn to Art da Costa’s levels of questioning (which is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy) to teach their students to reach that third dimension of questioning. After familiarizing themselves with the levels of questioning, teachers can model it at work in the classroom (see here for an example).

Bear in mind that the modeling also includes the teachers being ready to say, “I don’t know” without shame. That is a reflection of a teacher who is learning. As Claxton wrote:

“…of course teachers know more about some of those things than young people do…Of course I want my surgeon to be knowledgeable and competent. But I am safer in the hands of a doctor who is still an enthusiastic and unashamed learner than I am with one who closed her mind to new things thirty years ago. And my children are better off in the hands of a teacher who is continually open to wonder and puzzlement than they are being hectored by someone who lacks the honesty and courage to acknowledge a mistake or doubt”

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