Today I just want to share an article I read. I’m not a huge fan of Alfie Kohn in general, but I think what he has written about getting down to truly essential questions, and encouraging thoughtful questioning from students, can elicit some great thinking and discussions in reflection of our classroom practice. While much of it made me smile and nod in affirmation that I am doing the right things, the simple consciousness always helps me to further refine my teaching. The article speaks for itself, but I will just highlight some snippets that spoke to me. Please do take time to read the article and put it all into context.
- Kohn notes that,
“…every time we ask students ‘What was the name of the town in which the characters in this story lived?’ we leave less time for questions like ‘Why do you think the characters never left home?’ Every minute they’re forced to spend memorizing the definition of a word (‘What does nationalism mean?’) is a minute not spent wrestling with ideas (‘What would the world be like if there were no countries?’).”
And of course this is true, but I am now looking through the lens of “every time.” I am sure that I sometimes spend time on those factual recall questions when I could instead approach that information within a deeper context.
- Regarding student-generated questions, this is something that can and should be used at all levels. While the teacher may have questions in mind, there are myriad reasons why the students’ wonderings should be included from the start and used to steer and, yes, change the direction of the unit. The teacher can “help to clarify, amend, and reformulate those questions” as needed, but never leave them behind. There are always ways to find authentic connections between those student-interest investigations and the concepts and standards the teacher is aiming to address.
- What I found most compelling about Kohn’s article were his strategies for fostering student inquiry. One example included a teacher who presented four very different texts on a topic, each of which appeared (and probably believed itself) to be true and accurate. Other ideas include highlighting issues where experts currently disagree about something, and questioning the “givens” all around us. And of course, we all know that modeling deep thinking and inquiry is powerful in encouraging our students to be critical thinkers themselves.
Again, I encourage you to read the article for yourself. And if you are looking for more on questioning in the classroom, you may wish to look at this post and this post. What do you think you could refine or improve about your own use of questioning?