Questioning Questionable Questions

“Computers are useless – they only give you answers.” ~ Picasso

I recently referred to computers as my favorite school supply to a colleague. I love technology! What I can do with my computer is endless. A highlighter? Not so much.

The ability to ask questions leads me to endless inquiry. As a teacher, I ask questions all day long. Do I ask the right questions? I’m not sure. Inspired by A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, my perspective of questions and answers is changing. I’ve learned from experts that real learning comes when your thinking changes from before the content to after. If you’re thinking in the same way you were thinking before you learned something new, you didn’t really learn it. It must change the way you live and think to be effectively learned. From the beginning of reading the first chapter of this book to the end, my thinking has already changed. I think I’m with Picasso now.

All my teaching practices revolve around the desire to prepare my students for the real world – the world that they will be entering in the future. The lifestyle of people in the past, with its fixed path and predictability, of learning exclusively in school to get a job (then being done learning) has been replaced. Warren discusses today’s professionals in her text. She quotes Seth Godin saying successful people are, “… questioning the status quo, questioning marketing or political claims, and most of all, questioning what’s next.” (A More Beautiful Question, 2016, p. 25) This idea of constant inquiry is so critical to teach students if they’re going to be successful later on.

We hear so often that today’s students will all have jobs that don’t exist yet. Instead of that being discouraging to what a teacher is practicing currently in their classroom, I think it should be encouraging for teachers to instill innovative thinking into their students. If we teach students to be questioners, instead of the answerers of the past, we will teach them more to be successful in the future than if we taught them to memorize every single date in the history book.

If we want to teach kids effective inquiry, it would be helpful to model that as a teacher first, as is true with all teaching practices. However, with this practice it may be helpful to look the opposite way in the classroom. Warren Berger says, “We must become, in a word, neotenous… To do so, we must rediscover the tool that kids use so well in those early years: the question.” (Berger, 2016, p. 24) Could it be possible that this is another opportunity I get to learn from my students? I think so. Kids do this subconsciously and beautifully. Every curious “why?” can translate into a lesson for the teacher. No matter what age of your audience, there is always something to learn from someone else. With my young students, why not adopt their mentality of questioning everything? They’re models for me in this sense.

Once we get this questioning mindset down, it’s time for action. “Often the worst thing you can do with a question is to try to answer it too quickly” (Berger, 2016, p. 34) The best questions can’t be answered by Google. Can it support the thinking work? Definitely. But if they can answer it, your question can go deeper. So, a computer? Not the answer to the question. The ability to generate a good question requires a deeper type of thinking. Berger discusses this mass amount of information we receive constantly because of the current access to technology when he says, “The more we’re deluged with information, with facts, views, appeals, offers, and choices, then the more we must be able to sift and sort and decode and make sense of it all through rigorous inquiry.” (Warren, 2016, p. 26) The real mental work here is this. If students are aware and participating in this mental work, they are on their way to being innovative thinkers. Once they learn to be an innovative thinker, teachers are on their way to preparing them for the real world. 

In this day in age, the pace of innovation and change is rampant in all aspects of our world. This is obvious to us living here each day. So, yes. My goal is to prepare kids for the real world. In order to do this, I can’t teach answerers. I must teach my students to be constant questioners. “Each ‘answer’ they arrive at brings a new wave of “questions” (Berger, 2016, p. 38)

Berger, W. (2016). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

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