The Case for Inquiry
April 13, 2017
Consider this for a moment. In your classroom, who asks more questions, you or your students? Honestly. We may want an inquiry-based classroom where students are curious and learning through investigation and problem-solving. But our intentions are often overwritten by years of conditioning and a test schedule that forces us back into old habits.
Even when we know it should be the other way around, in most classrooms, the teacher is still the one asking most of the questions. The teacher is the one who knows the material. He imparts that knowledge to the students and then asks a lot of questions to check for understanding. When students answer incorrectly, he usually repeats the lesson. When they answer correctly, he moves on.
There are 3 problems with this model:
1) When students answer correctly, they are not demonstrating understanding. They are merely demonstrating recall. There’s a big difference. Recall can be useful for a test at the end of the unit, but it does nothing for building foundational knowledge—a solid schema upon which to attach future learning, make connections, apply skills, and analyze learning. If your goal is a good grade, recall is fine. If your goal is learning, it’s not.
2) This model strips the teacher of all the power and influence the role affords. If one wanted to make an argument that teachers are obsolete, that the internet can replace instruction and teaching, this model would support their argument because the type of questions asked in this model are the same types of questions the students will find in their textbooks and on myriad instructional sites. If you want to make yourself relevant, to harness the elements of your job that make it the most important profession in the world, you must ask questions that no one else could. Ask how something connects to what they did in another part of the day. Share your story in relation to the learning so they connect emotionally.
3) Bottom line, the one asking the questions is the one doing the learning. Questions asked in order to produce a correct answer do not generate learning. Questions asked out of curiosity generate learning. If you impart only enough information to make them curious, they will then produce the questions.
So, let’s return to the original question. In your classroom, who asks more questions, you or your students? As much as we want to answer “the students,” it’s rarely the case. So take on this challenge for one week:
- Replace recall questions with genuine connection.
- Impart curiosity instead of content.
- Strive to have your students ask more questions than you.
Give it a try. Let us know how it goes!