Almost a decade after reading Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, I decided to re-read it, since it is such a thought-provoking book. I’m reading it in little pieces now, savoring each idea! One nugget I read this week was about the amount of questions children ask. Young children begin asking “WHY?” and they don’t stop! Why is the sky blue? Why can you see the moon during the day? Why do rabbits’ teeth keep growing? The world is a large place, and little children want to know all about it. That’s why I became an early childhood teacher 42 years ago. That’s what I love about visiting the early childhood and elementary classrooms: children keep asking questions, more and more questions.! Of course, that can be exhausting, and you may run out of patience, but that process of asking questions is what separates us from all other species on Earth! And you know what happens as children get older? Yes – you are right – they stop asking questions!
Berger noted that questioning “falls off a cliff” as kids become older. A Gallup Poll revealed that as students’ progress through the grades, their questioning plummets (76% in elementary school to 44% in high school). Instead of wondering, older students are busy gathering information and spitting it back in a rote manner. This leads to massive disengagement from learning. I was not very surprised by this information, but it did lead me to think and question the classroom practices I observe each week:
- How do we use student questions to spark interest in a topic?
- Can the “parking lot” technique be used to display student questions and be a springboard for discussion?
- Can we have students generate questions from our essential questions?
- Do adults feel like they need to know the answers to all student questions?
- What do teachers do when they don’t know the answer?
- How comfortable are we as adults to ask questions?
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
By honoring students’ questions, teachers facilitate learning, which is relevant and motivates students to question further and seek out possibilities pertaining to any subject. To be curious and to question is intrinsic to learning. Berger quotes research scientist, John Seely Brown who explains that “…if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things – then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”
This adventurous spirit reminds me of a time when one of my young three-year-old students was outside playing. He suddenly looked up at the sky and was enthralled by the presence of the moon. He could not take his eyes off the moon and wondered why it was out in the daytime. In his experience, the moon only came out at night, and now all that he had come to know was in question. That was an important moment for him as a learner, and it was an important moment for me as a young teacher. I could have patted his head, given him a cursory answer, and brought his attention back to something tangible like the sandbox. Instead, I listened and encouraged his questions and helped him to better understand the workings of the universe. Indeed, this young boy’s curiosity sparked weeks of learning about the nature of the sky for all his classmates. We read countless books about the moon, created a moon surface, made a mural of the phases of the moon, and even built our own lunar explorer.
Teaching is at its most effective when it promotes risk-taking and relentless experimentation, which is the true heart of constructivist teaching. When teachers and students start asking open-ended questions such as: What do we want to learn? Why do we want to learn it? How will we go about learning it? How will we show what we’ve learned? – They are constructing curiosity, which will become a lifelong process. This approach affords multiple avenues for learning, giving teachers and students freedom to learn in a personal, creative, and active way.
Did I piqued your curiosity? Do you ave more questions? You might want to read and investigate a little further.
Books by Warren Berger
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