This week is CEP 812, we were introduced to the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger and the power of a QUESTION.
As I sat reading the directions to this week’s assignment, my 5 year old daughter hopped on my lap and began questioning, “Mama, what are you doing?”, “Why do you have homework?”, “Why are there so many words on your laptop screen?”. I began watching the book’s trailer, What Kills Questioning?, and my daughter began a whole new set of questions for me: “Why are they writing fast?”, “Why is there just a hand?”, “What is that man putting in his ears?”, “Why is there a zipper on the kids mouth?”. I again kept my responses short to keep my focus and explained that I needed to get my homework done.
But as I continued to watch, it became very clear to me that in that moment, I was doing EXACTLY what the video was explaining is happening to kids around her age that deters their inquiry and reduces their mental workload.
I was giving her the message that it wasn’t the right time for her to ask questions. I was killing her questioning.
According to Berger (2014), when situations arise that are not ideal, the first steps of innovative questioning are to inquire WHY the situation is the way it is which leads to forming ideas for possible solutions asking WHAT IF?, and taking these ideas to figure out HOW to solve the situation (p.32). These steps eventually lead to a solution.
WHY was I killing her questioning? WHAT IF I try and provide her with adequate answers? HOW will me doing this help her? Berger (2014) explains, “Maybe we’re simply worn out by the sheer volume of inquiry among young children” (p.40). During this time though, children are categorizing experiences through questioning and adults are helping them to do this by providing answers for them to label and file (Berger, 2014, p.41). By not providing a detailed answer or brushing the child off, we are hindering their mental categorization process that leaves them with empty files and reduces their mental workload preventing future questioning (hence, “killing questioning”).
This week, we were also exposed to a quickfire challenge where we were given 5 minutes to ask questions relating to our practice. Prior to starting my timer, it felt like a million questions were flying through my head. As soon as I hit ‘start’, I was drawing a blank. I instantly felt pressured and stressed that I only had 5 minutes. During this time, I was able to come up with 14 questions but if given more time, I know there could have been more. I tried to compare this experience of feeling pressured with my previous students’ experiences and I see why it felt like I was pulling teeth to get them to ask questions. When under pressure or being told to question, you mentally feel like you cannot; you draw a blank. But when thinking on your own occurs (i.e. me thinking of questions before hitting ‘start’), questions can free flow because it is at your own pace through your own mental exploration.
STEM Quickfire Image by Ally Roberts
Looking at my own questions, I noticed many of them I had began with “can” which would lead to a “yes/no” response; for these I reworded in an innovative questioning manner so as to question in a way that allows for problem solving towards a solution. Many of my questions focused on how my previous STEM teaching position could have been improved in order for STEM to be successful for students and staff (the solution).
I remember asking these questions to my co-teachers and to my superiors and getting responses such as “we will look into this” and “it’s just how it is”. I remember feeling as though there wasn’t time for my suggestions/questions. This quickfire activity easily compares to my daughter’s questioning experience. With adequate answers to questions, one wants to keep questioning to keep filling their mental files; but when one is “hushed”, questions die off and future mental explorations are squashed.
Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. NY: Bloomsbury.
Berger, Warren. “What Kills Questioning? (Book Trailer for A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION by Warren Berger).” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Nov. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dey1Rm5gUxw&feature=youtu.be.
Gerwalt. (2017, March 2). Question Mark Note Duplicate [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/question-mark-note-duplicate-2110767/
Graves Wolf, L. (2009, August 19). Quickfires Explained [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.leighgraveswolf.com/2009/08/19/quickfires-explained/