Never Ask a Question You Already Know the Answer To
Often as teachers we follow this movie lawyer cliché in our classrooms: We ask questions that we have seen lead our students through a lesson like a well-rehearsed play. While the actors may change, the roles and the conclusion remain the same. It allows us to avoid surprises and the distractions, disruptions, and conflict that comes with them. The problem with this classroom is that is a poor reflection of how learning actually happens. Learning never proceeds forward like a predictable comedy or drama, it is often surprising, and it is filled with distraction, disruption, and conflict.
Once students exit our schools, they will only learn through asking their own questions. They will need to look at their own lives and develop questions whose answers will deal with the critical issues in their world. The ability to ask these critical questions is something that needs to be taught. Schools are the safe space where questions can be asked and answered and the inquiry process can be practiced. With this need to practice how to ask questions based within their own experience and pursue their own answers, the education students need will shift to a more individualized model.
In this model, school will no longer be the source of all knowledge and information. Instead of moving students through the same questions, they must be encouraged to ask their own questions. It is a model of individualized inquiry, in which students drive their own education through their own questions. This allows more students to progress at their own pace, on their own time, and making their own meaning. This then shifts the purpose of schools from disseminating information to supporting students as they evaluate the information.
For students to succeed in the future, they will need to be continuously learning and improving their skills. With the proliferation of access to the Internet and the vast amount of information available, there will be soon very low barriers to learning in this area. It then becomes even more imperative that our schools set up students for success and give them to tools to ask critical questions in a wide-open educational environment.
This grows more difficult as we move away from giving students the unbiased, unobjectionable truth to allowing them to explore what is out there in all of its unfiltered glory. What we then must do as educators is support them as they become critical consumers of what they see. We have to get them to ask questions and examine the evidence and premises of what they are seeing in the world. This is much more challenging, but these skills are what is needed for success in the future. We do not want students to come out of school and simply be good at listening to those who are in charge of them. We want students to stop, ask questions, and try to make anything they are a part of better and more successful.
Individualized inquiry will free up the ability of students to be creative and follow their own path. The path they may take may be messy and filled with distraction, disruption, and conflict, but they will learn more through the process. They will understand how to ask the right questions to get themselves out of where they are stuck. Individualized inquiry will allow us to teach students in a way that is reflective of the world they are going to enter and it all begins with asking questions we do not already know the answer to.
John Hines currently teaches world history and AVID at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Washington. He also serves as the vice president of the Washington State Council for the Social Studies and is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2013. Hines is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in history and politics & government and is a proud, lifelong resident of Tacoma, Washington.