When kids are between two and four, they’re bubbling with questions — preschool children ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. (My daughter seems to ask this many on the drive to school — How do the cars stay in the lines? Who makes the lights change colours? Why don’t they make a wall so the bicycles can’t get hit? Why do motorcycles get to go in front of us? She is very much into the inner-workings of street traffic these days.)
But as they get older, the inquiries fade. For teachers, asking “Do you have any questions?” during a lesson becomes more of a formality than an earnest invitation into deeper exploration. The reason for this? Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of the TED conference, narrows in on the educational system, saying, “In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.”
And that’s tragic. Asking questions is how we learn, how we evolve, how we end up creating things that hadn’t existed before. Thankfully, though, educators are making changes. In a tweet, a Louisiana maths teacher named Andre Sasser shared that in her classrooms, she’s made a simple yet powerful tweak in her wording:
Two years ago, I was saying “do you have any questions?”. Last year I switched to “what questions do you have?” It made a difference. Today I tried “ask me two questions”. And they did! And those ?s led to more ?s. It amazes me that the littlest things have such a big impact!
— Andre Sasser (@MrsSasser) August 27, 2018
Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” Sasser started asking “What questions do you have?” That helped. But then she went a step further and gave the instruction: “Ask me two questions.” And that had a major impact.
Teachers and parents can try this, and also come up with their own ways to spark curiosity. Warren Berger, the author of A More Beautiful Question, has some excellent tips for helping children become better questioners, and thus, better thinkers.
The No. 1 guideline is to create an environment where asking questions is safe and welcomed. He points to the Right Question Institute, which helps teachers run group exercises dedicated to formulating questions.
For instance, they might take a statement such as “Pollution is a problem” and have students come up with 10 great questions about it in 10 minutes. During this time, there should be no answers, no opinions, no debating, no declaring that a question is too basic or naive. As Berger says, “Knowing the answers will help you in school, but knowing how to question will help you in life.”
My kid started kindergarten last week, and while she attends a wonderful school, some her initial comments have left me a little uneasy. Yesterday, she proudly announced that she earned a “superstar” for being so quiet. I’m not sure what to think about that. I just don’t want her to lose that natural instinct of sputtering out questions and thoughts and ideas with abandon (courteously, of course).
So when she keeps asking about vehicle flow at 7:25am, I will try my best to help her dig for the answers and then say, “What other questions have you got?”