Who is Entitled to Ask Questions in Class?

While reading Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question, something that really spoke to me was the question he posed, “Who is entitled to ask questions in class?”. Research has shown that teachers tend to monopolize in this role, usually to inquire about students’ knowledge about a particular subject rather than to spark interest (Berger, 2014, p. 56). When the teacher is doing all or most of the questioning, a student is not taking charge of their own learning, which usually results in a disinterest of learning because it is not their question; it’s not something that they really care about. One reason for this is the authoritative position of the teacher (Berger, 2014, p. 56). Students may pose questions that teachers don’t ultimately know the answer to, which is seen as a threat to the teacher. It undermines their authority of being the expert. Another reason that I can relate to personally is the pressure to cover large amounts of material in a limited amount of time (Berger, 2014, p. 57). In many occasions there is not enough time to explore and ask questions when there is so much to get through in a day and over the course of the year. Also, with scripted lesson plans that many teachers are forced to follow with fidelity, it leaves little room for questioning. Therefore, this question of who is entitled to ask questions in class has really impacted my thoughts of the role of the teacher vs. the students in the classroom. Students need to be in charge of their learning by formulating their own questions, which will in turn increase their engagement of learning.

In my professional experience as a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, I am guilty of monopolizing questioning in the classroom. I am the one who asks most of the questions; sometimes the questions are a form of formative assessment and other times it is to explore a topic of learning. What I have not done too often is have my students generate their own questions in the learning environment. Before reading the first couple of chapters of A More Beautiful Question, I had not really given questioning too much thought. I always try to ask interesting questions across subjects, but what I didn’t realize is that these questions have little value to the students because it is not their question. How do we expect students to be engaged in something that has little or no meaning to them? The time constraints and scripted lesson plans play a significant role in the reasoning behind why I have done most of the questioning in the classroom. Another reason is because questioning is difficult. Although my students are young, I see many of them already expecting to be asked the questions instead of thinking of them themselves, and this results in a lot of frustration or blank stares when given the opportunity to do so. Therefore, questioning is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught and practiced in the classroom. I plan to get out of the driver’s seat and let my students take more control of their education by teaching them the skills to formulate powerful questions that will drive their interests and learning. Even if this takes more time, the value of student interest in their learning supersedes the amount of information that is covered. Ultimately, they will gain more if they are engaged in their learning.

Here is a video of student-driven questioning taking place in a school in Chicago, IL.

References

Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

E. (2015, August 24). Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student-Driven Questions. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdYev6MXTOA

One thought on “Who is Entitled to Ask Questions in Class?

  1. paulkale says:

    Hi Jenna,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful response to our reading this week. You clearly articulated your connections with the book and including the video was a nice touch! I enjoyed reading your thoughts. It almost seems crazy that questioning happens in classrooms everyday but it isn’t really something we give thought to until it is pointed out to us. I was also struck by this very same question while reading. Sometimes it is tough as an educator to step back and really reflect on things taking place in your classroom. In regards to time constraints, one suggestion that was given to me was to create a “Wonder wall” in your room where students can post questions they have throughout the day and address them when you have extra time. I tried it out this year and I loved it! I respect you for realizing that perhaps we should step back and allow the students to start asking more. I believe it is vital for students to create their own questions so they feel that ownership over their learning. In reality, this should make the job of the teacher easier because we are giving more control to the students. I couldn’t agree more that it is a skill that all educators should be teaching and promoting in their classroom. I would love to hear what methods you will try out to actually teach these skills and share ideas!

    Thanks again for sharing,
    Alexis

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