What's in a Question?
How does a butterfly fly? Why is the sky blue? Where do frogs sleep at night? How can lizards climb up walls? Small children know how to ask questions – and how to frustrate their busy caregivers. And, there is value in their incessant questions of “why?”. With their young sponge-like brains, once a young child learns to speak, words launch natural curiosity to new heights. Kids know from an early age how asking questions is the best way to learn about the world around them. They are wizards at not taking something at face value.
Unfortunately, once a child begins formal schooling, many of their own questions fade. Instead, they shift to answering other people’s questions – from the teacher, the textbook publisher, their parents, on a standardized test, etc. Some kids excel at answering others’ questions. Kids who do well on tests have figured out how to gather all the right facts and recall them on an exam. Kids who don’t test well either can’t gather all the right facts or can’t recall them during an exam. Which leads one to question…
What are students today really learning?
When I was in school, I was an above average test taker and could figure out enough of the right questions and recall enough of the right facts to score well on the exams. The problem was – I didn’t learn anything—other than how to pass tests. I didn’t feel like I had a deep understanding of any of the facts I put on exams, and I although I had good grades, I was quite insecure about my abilities.
When I got to graduate school, I was finally finished answering other people’s questions. Teachers were replaced with professors who didn’t ask me that many questions, and exams were replaced with research where I got to ask my own questions. With this newfound freedom a whole world opened for me. A world that I am still exploring to this day. Which leads to the question…
As I discuss in the Why RATATAZ video, I’ve been studying how we learn for the past 30 years. And, as it turns out, people learn more when they can ask their own questions.
This is especially true for kids.
I spent the last 20 years developing science curriculum for kids, and for many of those years I felt compelled to follow the standard protocol of asking kids questions and expecting students to answer those questions. Recently, I’ve been exploring what happens to learning when the learner is asking and answering their own questions instead of someone else’s.
As it turns out, they learn quite a bit more!
Not only do children learn more, they stay engaged longer, retain extra information, and become more interested in learning itself. So…
What if we let kids ask and answer their own questions instead of insisting they answer ours?
We educators especially want kids to know things, and with the best of intentions we insist they learn the things we know because that’s what we can teach them.