Part 2

Questions and Direction

By Melvin Freestone, September 2012.

The world is full of talk about where education needs to be going in the twenty first century.  To many this conversation appears light on realistic ways of acting.  Perhaps consideration of questions as drivers might help to bridge talk and action.

Two fundamental issues underpin the conversation.  The first centers on the much discussed need to promote ‘thinking’ among learners and what that means for learning environments.  The second is the shift towards ‘student centered’ learning.

Thinking is instigated by asking questions around which learners can make connections within and between different aspects of their experience.  At times the thinking may be critical or analytical where pulling thoughts together is in the ‘frame’, and at other times it may be creative or imaginative where searching for innovative ideas and practices is in the ‘frame’.

For a moment in time being critical or being creative may predominate, but over time both will be in full voice.  A ferment or argument between the two is created in learners’ minds from which possibilities, ideas and actions are generated.  The overall ‘flow’ from asking questions to making connections is illustrated in the diagram.

 

 Intelligent thinking is a dynamic multi-layered process of intention, strategy and process.

  • Is the intention primarily focused on – innovation, originality, novelty and inventiveness, or on deduction, analysis, synthesis and decision?
  • In what ways can strategies or broad courses of action aid pursuit of questions emanating from the intentions that have identified?
  • Which processes are best for – defining Issues, gathering Information, devising alternatives, drawing conclusions, making judgements, and being fair-minded – as questions are explored and answers generated?

Growing appreciation that learners make unique connections within and between different aspects of their experience is fuelling a shift towards more ‘student centered’ learning.  Even if they ask the same questions and have identical experiences learners formulate their own connections.  They may come to similar understandings but they get there by different routes.

The metaphor of ‘student centered’ often tends to polarize conversations into an ‘either/or’ trap.  Instead, ‘learner led’ might be more insightful as gives strong direction yet implies partnerships between learners and teachers in the construction of learning.  Key features in a shift to ‘learner led’ include.

‘Learner led’ education is more likely to become a reality if learners generate the questions.  But questions posed by teachers can be just as valuable provided they are clearly understood by the learners.  Either way the questions being addressed need to be in the learners’ minds.

Asking questions and pursuing answers to them begets exploration and inquiry.  To be truly powerful the discourse needs to be deliberate, systematic and structured.  As a consequence learning is deeper than it might otherwise be with answers continually opening up more of the unknown.  In stark contrast, the mediocrity emanating from repetitive rote learning does little to stimulate learners especially when the agenda is solely owned by teachers.

Questions are thus means and ends to learning.  Asking them and seeking answers to them is a shared enterprise between learners and teachers, parents and other people in the community.  Their effective use goes a long way in creating learning communities that encourage-

  • Being curious and questioning generated through inquiring, wondering, posing problems, probing further and looking beyond what is given or immediately apparent
  • Thinking broadly and adventurously predicated on exploring alternative points of view, being open minded, being flexible, trying new things and ideas, and being playful
  • Reasoning clearly and carefully promoted through seeking clarity, gaining understanding, being precise and thorough, and remaining alert to possible error
  • Constructing inquiries built around being orderly and logical, being strategic, thinking ahead, approaching things in a calculated and methodical fashion, and
  • Giving thinking time provided by devoting time and effort to critical and creative thinking around a diverse range of challenges in many different situations and contexts.

Deep thinking and deep understanding result with the unknown becoming progressively more visible, if not mysterious.  As Einstein observed – The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true Art and Science.

Questions explode the mysterious!!!

To go to part 1 or 3 of the series, click here.
Part 1 Question and Learning
Part 3 Question and Teaching