“I’ll ask the question, a few of you will answer and we’ll pretend this is the same thing as learning.”
– Fischer and Frey, 2007
I have long been a fan of inquiry in the classroom but getting students to ask questions is not easy. The best part of learning occurs when we identify the gap between what is known and what we want to know. This is not territory that should be owned by the teacher.
I used to start with: what do you wonder? Then I moved to using a provocation like a short video, a story, or an article and then asking: what do you already know and what do you want to know.
Then the child has to be able to, somehow or other, realize that language is a tool for shifting stuff from that person to them
– Paul Harris
This lead to “the wonder wall” where students started with headings: what I think I know, what I want to know, what I have learned or verified, where I found my information, and ideas that turned out to be wrong. I still struggled with getting students to ask good questions. Moving beyond questions that can be answered yes or no or can be settled with a quick google search like a late night bar bet is a challenge.
Recently, I started using this template shared by @frank_ferrante with my students:
I struggled a little with translating the format into French but we made it work (look ‘ma… we learned the grammar of forming a question at the same time as provoking good questions! This was a rich place to start conversations about what a verb is, why it changes spelling, what is a subject, and how a question is formed. This is how we use language for authentic purpose.)
We used see, think, wonder to guide our inquiry (observer, réfléchir, se poser des questions). We started with a short provocation of looking for any information we could find about topics related to Tunisia (food, buildings, celebrations) and connected to what we knew about Calgary and the two countries we have already studied: Peru and India. Then we started asking questions. The book On the Way To School and the film by the same name provided powerful inspiration for asking questions.
1. Every question is a valid question
2. Listen to the question that comes before you speak and try to build it out so that it opens up
3. Aim for purple questions
The conversation was interesting to watch unfold as they pushed questions open by including more of what they already knew. An example of a question that grew(I have translated here but the conversation took place entirely in French):
“What do houses look like in Tunisia?”
“Why do houses in Tunisia look different than the houses in Calgary?”
“Why do they use the building materials they use?”
“How might the building materials they use depend on the environment in Tunisia?”
Of course the formula doesn’t work in every situation. Consider the question: What is truth? It falls into the yellow category, which might be considered a less interesting question but it is a deep question. The formula is just a starting place to get students moving beyond “googleable knowledge”.
Coming to deep questions is a long process but I really think the resulting learning is so much deeper and as students use questions to collaborate on a shared work product they will have the opportunity to learn from one another.
I’m currently working my way through this book and looking forward to asking better questions myself and to helping students ask better questions.
My take away so far: Warren Berger suggests designers use three questions that spark innovation: Why? What if…? How?