Questioning the Question Part II:

Questioning the Question Part II:

The Questioner

Last time I discussed the questions we may ask our child or student.
This time I would like to focus on the questions a child or student may ask us.

Questioning in Learning

Asking questions is the best way for someone to learn.
It shows mindfulness and interest in learning.
What we would call curiosity.

Types of Questions

A question can be simple gathering of basic facts and usually will begin with “What”.
For example,
   What was the date of that historic event?
   What was that mathematical formula?
   What was the name of…?

A question can be to understand how to perform a process and will usually begin with “How”.
For example,
How do you make a sourdough starter?
How do you calculate the area?
How do you write a book report?

A question can be to understand something such as a rationale and usually will begin with “Why” or “How come”.
For example,
Why do you need this step in the process?
How come this character did this and not that?

The important thing for an educator to remember is that these questions signal interest in the topic.
Too often, in a rush to get through the content an educator responds impatiently, discouraging questions.  Even more concerning is when an educator believes that a child is asking questions simply to derail the lesson or waste class time.  Feeling judged, this curious learner will learn to shutdown and tune out.  Not the educators intention at all!

Understanding the Question

What is often missing here is an understanding of how a learner learns knew things.
In order to retrieve the information later you need a very well organized filing system.
There are grossly two categories
1) Those things that fit into the person’s existing schema – a match
2) Those things that don’t fit and require a new category – a mismatch
Most “why” questions are not meant to challenge the educator, but rather to help the learner identify where or how to store this information.

Let’s say a child has a schema for food that includes a category/file for fruit.  Their folder includes apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, plums, and peaches.  Now they are introduced to a coconut and are told that this too is a fruit.  The dilemma is this, does it fit into the existing fruit category?  Perhaps a new subcategory is needed, such as “exotic fruit”.  Any questions they have about coconuts is to help them organize how to file this information.

Understanding the Mindset

By nature some people relate to similarities, perhaps going so far as to be oblivious to the differences,  and some relate to the differences going so far as to ignore the similarities.  The student that quickly throws the information into the available schema based on the similarities may be less disruptive, but has a less developed understanding.  On the other hand is the student that needs to feel they fully understand the material before feeling comfortable they are filing the information away in the “right” place.  They may be considered disruptive or challenging authority, but this is really projection on the part of an insecure educator who doesn’t understand how this student learns and lacks confidence in their commend of the class.

The next time a student asks a question, before you take it as a personal challenge consider if they may just be trying to understand and are a little defensive after having been shamed for asking questions instead of appreciated for their diligence.  If you are not sure, it’s better to presume them righteous rather than judge them disfavorably.


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