Never Sacrifice a Good Question for a Mere Answer: The Art of Questioning in the Classroom

There is a longstanding misconception that teachers should take up all the space in the classroom with their hard-earned omniscience. I submit that, now, more than ever, teachers are not the keepers of all knowledge and information (if we ever were). In this age of the internet and the ubiquitous ways to access it (smartphones, ipads etc…), our job as teachers is not so much to provide information, but to help students navigate the treacherous oceans of information–to help them think critically so that they can ascertain levels of veracity and develop the ability to reject and accept ideas and not simply and passively accept what they read on the internet or elsewhere. Indeed, not all websites are created equal. Encouraging students to question is perhaps one of the most valuable skills we can pass on to our students. One way to model and encourage critical thinking skills is to pose questions to students that are neither threatening nor demeaning. This helps to build a community of truth and trust. Many teachers worry that class discussions will go off track and the “wrong answers” will be disseminated. Don’t worry if an “untruth” occurs during a class discussion; trust that someone in class will challenge it. It may be tempting to provide the “correct” answer; however, allowing the students to debate, challenge and constructively disagree is far more valuable and meaningful for students, as they become co-creators of knowledge and feel a strong sense of ownership over their learning. We must be dependent on our students, and they on us, in order for learning to take place–a pedagogical interdependence must occur for an authentic exchange of ideas to occur in the classroom. As Parker J. Palmer explains, “when we can say ‘please’ because we need our students, and ‘thank you’ because we are genuinely grateful for them, obstacles to community will begin to fall away; teachers and students will meet at new depths of mutuality and meaning and learning will happen for everyone in surprising and life-giving ways.” In the final analysis, at it’s core, isn’t that what school should be? A life-affirming place, where all students, regardless of race, gender or class, can participate equally.

 

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