Tag Archives: questioning

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

Question Mark Cookies

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. 

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

What could you do as a school leader to hack at some new possibilities for curiosity- and inquiry-driven student learning…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

Our answers lie within

The answer

The more I work with administrators and teachers, the more I’m convinced that, for the most part, the answers we seek lie within us.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of fabulous educators in recent months. We’ve been talking about facilitating deeper learning, fostering better technology infusion, and increasing student agency and ownership of the learning process.

While I’ve been sharing resources and trying to spark some ‘urgency’ to move forward faster, much of the time I’ve been asking questions. Questions like:

  • How can we get more problem-based learning into our classrooms?
  • What are some ways that we can make students’ learning experiences more global?
  • In two minutes, can you come up with five ways that you could increase student voice online?
  • How could you put your students to work to make something that benefited others?

Invariably, the educator pairs or small groups come up with a wealth of possibilities. In many cases, the ideas come pouring out as if from a firehose, as if they were bottled up just waiting for someone to ask the questions so that they could be released.

As leaders, we have to continually remember that there’s an incredible wealth of untapped talent, expertise, experience, and wisdom in our faculty. In our search for solutions, we need to turn less to outside experts – at least at first – and instead uncover what lies dormant within. If we ask the right questions – questions that are tightly focused and solution-oriented – most of the time we will generate numerous options that can be thrown out for more discussion and explored in more depth.

What are the specific, progress-oriented questions that we could be asking our faculty but haven’t? What untapped possibilities are lying dormant within our school organizations? As principals and superintendents, how can we better utilize targeted questioning to open up new lines of innovation? Once we generate some exciting new conversations, then the challenge is for us to facilitate and support those ideas so that they translate into sustainable changes in practice. That’s difficult work, of course, but it’s also energizing, movement-oriented work. And buy-in is inherently better because it came from the group, not from us or an outsider.

Ask your faculty some new questions. They’ll probably amaze you.

[Of course everything I said here also could (should) be done with students. It no longer should be an epiphany for educators that we should be doing less to students and doing more with them.]

Image credit: 007 The Answer 12|12