Moving forward into week 2 of CEP 812, I read through the first two chapters of Warren Berger’s (2014) book, “A More Beautiful Question.” Berger, a journalist, decided to understand more about “the power of inquiry,” as he discovered that for many people, “their greatest successes — their breakthrough inventions, hot start-up companies, the radical solutions they’d found to stubborn problems — could be traced to a question (or a series of questions) they’d formulated and then answered,” (Berger, 2014. p. 1).
I too understand the inquiry that goes into journalism and felt connected to Berger when he was sparked to follow through on this topic after discovering it from a completely separate project he was working on. As an educator, I can agree to an extent his questioning of the current U.S. education system in that students are forced to sit still for hours at a time and have all of the right answers. “…Many educators and learning experts contend that the current system of education does not encourage, teach, or in some cases even tolerate questioning,” (Berger, 2014. p. 46).
Berger interviews Harvard’s Tony Wagner, who explains that:
“‘Somehow, we’ve defined the goal of schooling as enabling you to have more ‘right answers’ than the person next to you. And we penalize incorrect answers. And we do this at a pace — especially now, in this highly focused test-prep universe- where we don’t have time for extraneous questions,’” (Berger, 2014. p. 46).
This, in particular, is what got me thinking about the school that I currently teach at. I teach at a charter high school in Detroit where the majority of our students are reading at an elementary (some at a middle school) level. We are constantly bombarded by tests, this year alone, we have already scheduled our students to take the NWEA test four times, ANET testing four times, SAT, Work Keys, MSTEP (and I’m sure there are more tests that I am forgetting). We are constantly pushing our students to work toward exams and offer incentives to students who test well and achieve high scores. I feel this takes away many opportunities for our students to be creative or more inquisitive in their classes because they are expected to remember facts for a test. And when a teacher’s “effectiveness” rating is tied to the students’ test scores, I think that there are times when many educators feel bombarded and/or rushed to not only teach the curriculum but also get students caught up on the previous curriculum that they are so behind in.
In the second chapter of Berger’s book, he asks the question: “If we’re born to inquire, then why must it be taught?” He discusses the Right Question Institute and their involvement in helping educators and businesses teach their students (or employees) how to ask questions and how to evolve their thinking through questioning. This section was the most impactful for me because it had me thinking about my own classroom, and gave me ideas on ways that I could impact the students I teach daily.
I am quite grateful that I am a Spanish teacher — technically a required elective class— so I feel I can be more creative activities with my students. The “Question Formulation Technique,” from Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana’s Right Question Institute is something I’d like to incorporate in my own classroom. It allows students who normally sit in pairs (or groups) to ask questions (rather than answer them).
The program designed for K-12 classrooms goes like this:
1. Teachers design a Question Focus (Q-Focus).
2. Students produce questions (no help from the teacher; no answering or debating the questions; write down every question; change any statements into questions).
3. Students improve their questions (opening and closing them).
4. Students prioritize their questions. They are typically instructed to come to an agreement on three favorites.
5. Students and teachers decide on next steps, for acting on the prioritized questions.
6. Students reflect on what they have learned.
(Berger, 2014. p. 65)
I think incorporating activities like this into my Spanish class will give ALL students an opportunity to participate (because they’re not required to KNOW facts), and it will allow them to participate more in how they are learning (and even what they are learning). It will also provide them the necessary support to know how to formulate questions that will get them to solutions in the long-run.
As educators, it is our goal to help our students continually grow and if we prevent them from understanding how to question more openly and freely to find new ideas, we are doing them a disservice (more so than when we don’t teach them straight curriculum facts).
Ever wonder how to ask the right question? Check out this video from Hal Gregersen during a TEDxYouth Talk about people can learn how to ask questions to navigate the challenges of today.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.
iz Quotes. (2017). Albert Einstein Quote. [Online image].
Retrieved September 17, 2010 from http://izquotes.com/quote/373741
TedxYouth. [TedxYouth]. (2013, June 11). How To Ask The Right Question: Hal Gregersen at TEDxYouth@IFTA [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APVaTRNQmJc