Beautiful Questioners

With reference to A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

Warren Berger has such a wonderful way of forcing me to rethink things I once thought I knew well. First, it was the value in a question. Now? Everything else. In chapter two, she discusses the purpose of school in the past versus the purpose of them today. This was absolutely baffling to me. The purpose of school of the past industrialized civilizations were geared toward cranking out workers that would following directions quickly and quietly. Jobs with that in the description were the norm at the time. However, today’s job market requires creative and complex thinkers. So, she poses the question of why our school system seems to have a similar style now than in the past if the job market differs so greatly. Warren discusses this by continuing to encourage questioning.

Berger says, “To create good workers, education systems put a premium on compliancy and rote memorization” (p. 48). This reminds me of when I was in a conservative private school. By second grade, I was extremely talented at sitting quietly in my desk and completing work without asking questions or collaborating. Being talented at this looked great on my report cards, and got me good reviews at parent-teacher conferences. But, did it prepare me to think outside the box and push the limits of my thinking? Probably not. So, how do we change schools to adapt to the “entrepreneurial” (Berger, 2016, p. 48) society in which we are beginning to live?

Berger goes back to the question of the purpose of schools: “Why are we sending kids to schools in the first place?” (p.48). She follows this up with an answer: “To prepare students to be productive citizens in the twenty-first century.” (p.49). So what does this entail? This is a complex thought! What kinds of skills does a student need to be a productive citizen? It probes many questions about the time in which we’re living. All to figure out what our schools could do to ensure students were well-prepared during their schooling. Who knew teachers would have to predict the future?

This broad idea boils down to the fact that jobs these days need so much more complex skills than memorizing lists, being able to do rote or tedious tasks, and following directions carefully. They require thinking outside the box, at the risk of being cliche. If someone isn’t willing to question things or take a risk, they just won’t be as successful as someone who is. The successful people we hear about on the news or who are founding a new interesting company are those who took a step back, asked a question, and weren’t afraid of going against the status quo to search for the answer. Did they learn this in a standard schooling situation? Ideally, they could.

She asks the powerful question, “What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners? How might we create such a school?” (p. 49).

This question leads me to my own question, How can I implement this idea, today, right now, in my classroom? (Or at least once the fall comes) Building a classroom environment where questioning rules the day would be a dream. I am constantly thinking of ways to structure my classroom on preparation for 21st century learners. Through some risky ideas and helpful technology, I am making my way toward this idea. However, there is room for improvement towards ensuring my students leave my 4th grade room as more powerful questioners.

Explicitly teaching students how to question is the initial vital step. The first way I plan to do this is experimenting with the Why, What If, How method by which Berger lives. Teaching students this method of questioning will not only teach them a scaffolded, concrete way of beginning to question, but it allows them to feel comfortable when asking questions. If they’re following a method given by their teacher, students who aren’t usually willing to take a risk might be more willing to take it here. “My teacher taught me how to do this, so I can ask questions this way.” For my students, this gives them a little window into deeper questioning I hope to have them doing as the year progresses and their comfort and confidence within questioning strengthens. 

Specifically, I plan on using this approach during my Weather research project. In the past, I’ve grouped students according to ability. But now, I think it would be helpful to have students ask all kinds of questions about weather and group them with students that have similar interests to them. In the future, they will be on teams with other workers who have similar skills, jobs, and interests to them. Why not start working on teams like these and collaborating with these kinds of people in 4th grade? Instead of providing them with subtopics on the weather, I would love to have them brainstorm what they want to accomplish during their research as a group. This way they can practice challenging themselves, thinking creatively, and not just being a receptacle of information following what I instructed them to do. 

The fall can’t come soon enough when I get to meet my future beautiful questioners and world changers!

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

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