Curiosity, why aren’t students asking the questions?

This week I was lucky to be invited to a new school in Oslo, Ullern vgs. They are located in a new modern building connected to Norway’s most important cancer hospital, in what is called Oslo Cancer Cluster. The connection and proximity of location offer an interesting partnership beneficial for both. The students are invited to participate in research and they have sponsors who have provided state of the art rooms with multimedia equipment. See picture. I was invited to offer some advice on how to use technology in the classroom and to show examples of how we work with technology at my school. In the discussions we had, I emphasized how important I think it is to encourage the students to ask the questions, not the teachers. I shared examples where I have invited experts into my classroom and how the conversations were dependent on how well the students were able to ask interesting questions. The reward being when the person invited exclaimed; that was an interesting question.

The resonates well with the article I read by Scott McCloud called; Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership? I will share what I liked most about the article here:

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum.

Source: New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity | @mcleod | Dangerously Irrelevant

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