The big questions

We would all love to have a room full of engaged, active, curious learners……this is the dream scenario for educators!  The most successful people are curious people.  Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”

However, in reality, all learners are entering the classroom or training room with their own emotional and physical baggage.  Some are not particularly interested in the subject of the learning and some just need the qualification – the learning is the means to an end.

So how can we foster a spirit of curiosity?  Develop learners’ ability to ask the questions that count?  Practice makes perfect – and questioning is definitely a skill. 

To develop good questioning….ask good questions!

All learners are used to a certain structure at the beginning of a new topic/subject.  The teacher/trainer introduces the objectives and will probably read some information to get the learning started.  Some learners will already have switched off – and these are usually the learners you need on board the most!

Why not start with a question? This can be related to the topic, or something more general for a warm up.  Philosophy questions are great for opening up a debate: e.g: ‘Can a lie ever be beneficial?’ or ‘When do you stop being a child?’  These are great for any age to get the discussion flowing.  They also model good questioning as they are open questions.

Planning your questions

Questions in planning can be more powerful than any amount of activities or resources.  Having question stems on your planning can be very helpful and will ensure that you are modelling excellent questioning skills.  It is not enough to ensure you are asking a range of open and closed questions as these can still be fairly restrictive.  Bloom’s Taxonomy is incredibly helpful here and can be used with students of any age:

1: Knowledge – who/what/where/when/how describe/what is?
2: comprehension – what differences…./what is the main idea of….can you summarise?
3: application – how is…an example of/how is…related to…./why is ….. significant?
4: analysis – how does … with/classify ….according to/what evidence can you present for?
5: synthesis – what would you predict from…/what might happen if…./what solutions can you suggest for….?
6: evaluation – do you agree that…../how would you decide…../what criteria would you use to assess…../prioritise…. According to….?

With this on your planning, there will be a constant reminder to ask a range of good questions.

How can this translate to the learners asking good questions?

If there is trust in the classroom or training room, then curiosity can be built on these good foundations.  If all questions or ideas are valued, then learners will be open to having a go. 

Using enquiry based learning is a great way to start any topic at any age. ‘What do I already know?’ and ‘What do I want to know?’ are key questions to get started on a new topic.  This will need scaffolding, depending on the age and ability of the learners, but it gives them more ownership on the topic.  There may be more flexibility within groupings if learners with similar interests work together on particular parts of the topic that they find the most interesting. This approach means learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt and keeps them actively engaged.

Teach it!

So you have modelled excellent questions, the learners have responded and are absorbing all of this great teaching and learning.  They will also need to be actively taught how to ask good questions.  Plan in opportunities for them to ask each other questions.  Role-playing a journalist can be relevant in almost any subject.  It may be useful to have question stems such as: ‘What if…?/How could you….?’ on the table.  Give planning time to prepare well thought out questions to ensure nobody feels they have been put on the spot.  Analyse which questions gained the longest or most interesting responses.  It really is worth spending time on this in order to ignite some curiosity.

Some teachers or trainers use a ‘Wonderwall’ – all you need is a space or wall with access to post-its and pens.  This can have a theme or be entirely open.  Again, it reinforces that culture of curiosity – it is good to be curious and will be rewarded.

The buzz of curious learners is infectious and very rewarding for the teacher.  It can lead to interesting discussions and can mean that learners take more risks and are more open to sharing ideas – why not give it a try?

 Photo by Gary Ellis on Unsplash