Questions in School: Powering Learning and Creativity

curioussealQuestions are in the air, it seems. One of the most talked-about books this year is Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question. September’s issue of Educational Leadership focuses on questioning for learning. It seems a good time to think about the role questions play in creativity—and learning.

Questions, it almost goes without saying, lie at the heart of all creative endeavors. Contented people do not make discoveries. Those who do not wonder do not invent, write, paint, or explore. They are contented with the world as-is. Those who believe all the important questions have been answered miss the joy of asking new ones.

And yet, when we consider the sad trajectory of students’ questioning—from toddling question-generating machines to the often-unquestioning students inhabiting our classrooms, we must consider our roles in the process. How much energy do we spend teaching students to ask questions as compared to teaching them to answer them? Do the questions we ask students cause them to ponder or to recall?

questionsOf course, the answers to such questions are complicated. More each year, teachers and schools are judged by their students’ abilities to answer questions, at least the kind that appear on standardized tests. In the face of such pressures, it is too easy to leave students with the impression that answering questions is the important part when, in truth, it is only the beginning.

Curiosity and questioning matter. We know that people appear to learn more when they are curious about the material. We know that teachers’ modeling curiosity and questioning increases students’ exploration. I recently read an article from 2007* that found whether more curious students learned more depended on whether they perceived their schools as supportive of inquiry. If students believed their school supported their questioning, curious students learned more. If they perceived the school as unsupportive, curiosity was no advantage.

If we want students to use and benefit from their curiosity, we need to signal that we support it, well beyond asking “Do you have any questions?” So for the next few posts we’ll consider, how do we help students ask questions? Curious minds want to know!


*Kashdan, T. B. & Yuen, M. (2007). Whether highly curious students thrive academically depends on perceptions about the school learning environment: A study of Hong Kong adolescents. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 260–270. DOI 10.1007/s11031-007-9074-9

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