Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Questions Matter More

Attribution Some rights reserved by Stephen Brace
by Sean Wheeler

Currently, education is an answer-based culture.  We do all kinds of things with student answers.  We measure them, we grade them, we cross them out, we comment on them, we graph them, chart them, mine them, sort them, and report them.  We also use these answers to measure our effectiveness, our failures, and our growth as teachers.  Districts use the answers to allocate funds, make curricular decisions, and build a successful staff.  Politicians use them to set policy, budget, and law.  Parents use the answers everywhere from deciding where to live to whether or not their son or daughter is grounded on the weekend.  And probably most importantly, students use them as a measurement of their potential and worth.  An answer-based culture makes a whole lot out of what it sees under a very small microscope.  There are questions involved, of course, but they are questions we ask of the data not the people who gave the answers in the first place.

However, the internet is made for questions.  The whole reason that Google exists is because people open their browser with a question in mind.  While Yahoo! Answers might do what the name implies, it's the questions that are asked in the first place that matter most. Wikipedia has revolutionized our ability to easily access answers (much to the chagrin of answer-based teachers), but it wouldn't exist if weren't fueled by questions. And feedback, which is a conversation based on the question, "How are we doing at what we say we're doing", is quickly becoming the most valuable asset for businesses and organizations that seek to improve their customer satisfaction by carefully listening to the answers and suggestions their customers provide them.

We want to tap into that question mindset, replicate it within our students, and then hold conversations about the answers we find.  The value of asking great questions is on the rise and if we aren't teaching our students this skill, even though it's hard to measure, we are surely doing them a great disservice. Asking a question comes from within, while too many of our students are led into answers due to some extrinsic motivator (points, tests, etc.). Exploration starts with a question every time. "How Did School Do?" is as much an exploration as it is a destination. We honestly don't know what people are going to say in their feedback videos, and it is precisely this reason that makes this a valuable learning opportunity for our students.

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