I just received this link in which a teacher was promoting the asking of questions and developing a teaching strategy for this. His strategy appears to me to be asking questions for questions sake, and surprisingly enough this is not always learning.
It reminds me of a boy I met in care. There was nothing remarkable about this boy ie high intelligence etc, but he had learnt a skill from being in care. He was always asking questions. The response to this was quite fascinating. The old hands told him to do as he was told. Younger houseparents felt it necessary to answer his questions, and as a result his years in care had paid off – he had got their attention. They felt they should answer his questions because their rational education demanded that there should be answers. It led to difficult situations as the boy did not care what the answer was, he was just asking to get attention.
This points out the flaw in this teacher’s questioning methodology, he is asking questions for questions sake. His strategy is good in the sense that the students can learn how to formulate questions, but it makes no evaluation of the purpose of the questioning. The boy I met in care would have excelled in this teacher’s class but learnt nothing because the purpose of his questioning was not to learn the answers. One could envisage a situation in this teacher’s class where questions are framed per se, and whether they came up with answers that satisfied a learning objective was irrelevant.
Fruitful questioning requires an objective. Why are you asking a question? Because the teacher told me to. Why are you asking that question? Because I am trying to learn the answer or the solution to a problem, this is enquiry. Many of the question-developing techniques that he proposes would be useful in enquiry but only if the objective is an enquiry as opposed to questions per se.
There is also a certain naivete to this questioning methodology because it does not discuss the necessity for good enquirers to learn to stop asking. On a practical level there is the questioning by students as a “red herring” – manipulating the teacher into a favourite hobby horse in order to avoid work.
But more importantly there are times when questions are not appropriate. In daily life someone might have suffered a personal loss, and asking questions just elicits hurt. And what about uncomfortable questions? Politically questions asked by whistle-blowers are not wanted.
And then there are the legitimate questions that students ask. Middle-low ability students asking why are we learning this, it will be of no use to us. Why do I go to school when I am going to work in my father’s small business? Questioning has limitation, and any discussion of questioning ought to recognise this – except there are good career reasons for not pointing this out.
And there is an important area of enquiry that ought to be discussed when considering questioning, and that is personal enquiry. Turning students in on themselves to try to get genuine enquiry going, this is a questioning methodology that would be of great use in adult life – in terms of personal stability as opposed to commercial worth. It would however require that the teacher has already done this so that they can understand the benefits. But that is a question not to ask!!
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