I don’t usually think that much about questions. Given that I spend most of my time answering questions, and teaching others to answer questions, as a math teacher, that seems like an odd situation. I probably should spend more time thinking about questions. What questions are meaningful? What kinds of questions do I want my students to be able to answer? I started reading Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question this week and began thinking about questions in a serious way.
A More Beautiful Question considers the link between people who question and people who become innovators. Berger(2016) explains that not only does questioning separate us from the apes, but also pushes us to innovate, make changes or explore something new. It seems some of the biggest innovations began with a question. This would make questioning a critical piece to thriving in our current, constantly changing, world. So if our schools are trying to prepare students for the 21st century workplace, we should be looking at preparing them to question, as much as we are preparing them to be creative and work with technology. Are schools preparing students to question?
According to Berger(2016), there is “a steep decline in questioning” (p. 45) as students enter school. Not only that but, “…as kids stop questioning, they simultaneously become less engaged in school” (Berger, 2016, p. 45). I found this particularly, striking, as I have seen in my classroom that few students are willing to ask questions. I also have too many students who are not engaged in school, though I suspect the reasons for this are wide-ranging and may or may not have anything to do with asking questions. I do think that there are questions worth asking about this. Do our schools actively discourage questioning? Is this best for students? I try to encourage students to ask questions in my classroom, but usually about content. They are not the sort of questions that would push boundaries or lead to a change. This is partly because I work in a math classroom, and math tends to be about answering questions, not asking them. Can I bring questions to a math classroom in a more meaningful way?
To help my brain reorient to focus on questions, I went through a questioning exercise. It turns out, I have a lot more questions simmering away in the back of my mind than I thought. Given 5 minutes to come up with questions of practice in my classroom, I had no problem filling in card after card. I finished one last question as the timer sounded, holding off on the several more that were ready to burst forth. I realized, as I glanced over my questions (pictured below) that a lot of these questions were familiar. I ask a lot of them, a lot of the time, as part of my self-reflection as a teacher. I could sum these questions up beneath one big question: How can I teach better?
Will bringing more questions into my classroom make me a better teacher? I do not know at this time, but it is worth exploring. I know that I have tried to prompt students before with the question: Is there a different way to solve this? I encourage students to solve problems in multiple ways, but I do not think this is necessarily the kind of question that leads to innovation. Or is it? I will need to consider further, and I think I will finish reading Berger’s book. There is an interesting connection that I would like to make here, because I do think math is about answering questions. The key may lie in how I can prompt students to ask the kinds of questions that math can answer.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.