Asking the Right Questions

“No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” (James Comer, 1995)

As an educator, it’s critical to devote time during the first days of school to get to know your students and a questionnaire is a great start. Fortunately, there’s a seemingly endless cache of well-crafted “First Day of School” surveys and questionnaires to be found online. However, while most will provide you with a quick sense of who your students are as individuals, open-ended questions designed to uncover their deep sense of curiosity and unique wonderings are typically left unasked. This is not surprising as most questionnaires are designed to provide the teacher with specific answers he/she is looking for. What you will need to incorporate are questions that will provide you with greater insight into the types of answers your students are looking for. You need questions that will reveal those fascinating, amazing, and perplexing questions most relevant to your students.

Whether in a questionnaire or separate exercise or activity, find time at some point in the first days of school to pose the following questions to your students:

What questions do you have about yourself?

What questions do you have about the world?

Student responses to these questions not only provide important insight into their interests, imagination, and aspirations but can also become the basis for guiding curriculum and instruction. After all, what can be more relevant and engaging than connecting content to those questions most important in the lives of your students?

Let’s take the first question. A student-generated response of “Will I live to be over 100 years old?” spawns inquiry about genetics, environment, family history, probability and statistics, health and wellness…
A response to the second question, “Are there any places that have yet to be discovered?” becomes the impetus for an investigation into exploration, geography, cartography…

Other responses might be along the lines of…
Why is there so much hate in the world?
Will cures for cancer be found?
Will there ever be a Latino president?

So, just ask and you will be amazed at the questions posed by your students. The only rule is no rules. Don’t put restrictions on your students’ responses. Don’t lead or guide their thinking. Assure them that no question is “unimportant”, “basic” or “silly” – if it’s a question that they really want answered then it’s one worth asking. Leave things open, provide sufficient thinking time, trust your students, and value all responses.

Branford, J. D., & Brown, A. L. Cocking (Eds.).(2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school.

By Richard FrankCT3 Managing Associate

Related Reading:

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Category: Culture, Teaching