Written by: Hans Appel
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”
Questions lead to answers like leadership leads to culture. While great leadership builds amazing culture, weak leadership can foster toxic culture. Educators and students are co-leaders in an Award Winning Culture. In terms of learning, in order to discover helpful answers we must learn to ask the R.I.G.H.T questions.
Modern educational thought leaders have emphasized the learning power in asking smart insightful questions. In essence, there is an entire body of research to suggest that educators should be striving for learners to question and interact with academic content rather than seeking an ongoing answer factory.
Questioning helps students generalize skills beyond a limited set of circumstances. Despite our knowledge on the importance of questioning, I’ve long wondered why school seems to regularly devolve into a repetitive question/answer series of activity.
It’s important to understand standardized assessments came about because of a need to make things simpler to compare, contrast, and label. For instance, it’s ‘easier’ to grade and therefore assess student knowledge if there’s an obvious answer to a predetermined common assessment. On the other hand, simplicity for educators, parents, and lawmakers does not equate to value for learners.
My colleagues, who preach alternative assessment options like standard based grading or student conferencing, might be quick to point out the fallacy in traditional questioning models. Additionally, these same colleagues would explain how this limited inquiry based approach prevents learners from stretching up the pyramid of Bloom's Taxonomy or reaching higher levels on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.
Furthermore, lower forms of questions reinforce barriers to learning like gender and racial bias. If a question doesn’t allow room for me to wrestle with big ideas while infusing my own uniqueness into the answer, it’s probably a poorly conceived question.
Educators get what they model and practice in their own learning. It's time to start thinking about some of the questions we ask of our peers...
Are you a part of any ongoing learning community? Maybe a PLN, PLC, Facebook group, etc. I’ll bet some of the questions below look familiar.
Here’s a few common low-level questions I regularly see in online learning communities:
Some queries don’t even take the form of a question:
On the outside these targeted questions seem to drive specific shotgun answers that might help guide educators; but, in reality there’s a common thread underscoring each question. These routine inquiries from educators lack the PASSION, PURPOSE, and PRIOR KNOWLEDGE to ignite game-changing professional development. Receiving a laundry list of ideas or suggestions, is nothing more than an efficient way to poll.
It’s much more relevant and helpful to understand the thinking that goes behind the answer. Why do I value this kindness lesson, leadership book, or ice-breaker? The real answer to any of the above questions is-- it depends.
It depends on your school and class culture. Please don’t assume that one educator’s must-have program, strategy, or thought is exactly what your community of learners needs.
In order to answer these questions effectively, we’d need to know more about the BIG PICTURE. Where are you going? Who’s the audience? What are your goals? Why is this question important to your classroom, school, or learners?
If educators hope to expect deeper levels of questioning from our students we must DEMAND the same rigor in our own learning.
Sometimes the right questions are the ones we ask OURSELVES.
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”
-Margaret J Wheatley
Locating the strongest educational learners is pretty easy, they’re the ones CREATING, REFLECTING, and CONNECTING.
They reframe knowledge based questions into metacognitive analysis of thought:
Before seeking level 1 input from external sources, start by reframing your basic questions into reflections to rekindle your WHY. When exploring professional development pursue multi-points of entry into your passion. Focus less on seeking answers and more on practicing an award winning mindset driven to discover and develop YOUR OWN JOY.
In Award Winning Culture, I wrote about what prevents others from asking questions, “educators in an award winning culture recognize current and past barriers toward seeking help and actively create safe and welcoming conditions to support students, parents, and educators.”
Taking it a step further, the additional barrier is ensuring we’re asking ourselves and others the deeper level questions while wrestling with ever-changing answers.
What’s one thing you’re struggling with this week that might benefit from a reframe? Are you asking the RIGHT question?
About the Author
Hans Appel is an educator, speaker, and writer deeply committed to inspiring the whole child. He’s the author of, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence, and Community. Additionally, he’s the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team, Co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture.
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.