Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Questions or Answers

I find that when we engage in real, authentic learning, we tend to have even more questions that when we started.

So why is it in 'traditional' school we sell learning as a fishing expedition for right answers?

Grades, tests and report cards all encourage students to focus obsessively on answers, when the truth is that learning is more about the questions we ask than the answers we discover.

Yes, finding answers to our questions is important, but when we focus so much on the answers, rather than the questions, we place an artificial ceiling on our learning.

The only reason to pursue an answer is so that new questions can be formed. If we want to place any kind of real stock in 'life-long learning' place far more emphasis on questioning and a little less on answers.

Consider the following:

Who asks all the questions on a test? Apparently questions are only for teachers, and you would only ever ask a question that you already know the answer to. Or so it would seem, if you looked at how often we ask students to ask the questions on a test.

What do parents ask their children about when they get home from school? Our words matter, and so when we ask 'What did you learn?' we are doing so because we care, but perhaps it would be just as caring to ask 'What did you wonder about today?' or 'What did you struggle with today?'

If aliens landed today and studied every test that has ever been given by every teacher in the world, they would have to conclude that questions are for teachers and answers are for students. Meaning, you would only ever ask questions if you already know the answer.

We have a strikingly imbalanced take on who gets to ask the questions and who gives the answers.


  1. I think this also has the unintended consequence that when we ask students a question just because we're interested in hearing their thoughts, they're wary that it's still some kind of test - that there must be a right or wrong answer, so they better tell us what they think we want to hear.

  2. Always tell my student teachers...
    Kids will never remember an answer to a question that they did not ask.

  3. My favorite student response to one of my questions was, "You don't ask questions like other English teachers!" I explained I don't like asking questions I know the answers to...I want to ask questions when I DON'T know the answer. Heard a speaker respond to, "This may be a stupid question..." with "The only stupid question is one you know the answer to, and the only people who ask stupid questions are teachers." Ouch!


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