Thursday, March 7, 2013

Let's Ask Ourselves a Question

By: Sarah Luebbert

“The challenge is to create within the traditional school building, during the traditional school day, with the traditional textbook and paucity of materials, a series of experiences that involve students doing real science, not pretend science.”
- Denis Dubay in "Letting Students Ask The Questions- and Answer Them."

When the idea of school was first brought to light about three hundred years ago, it focused students learning on three things: good handwriting, the ability to read, and the skill of doing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in their head. Teachers told students how to do this and then they simply copied what the teacher had just done. This was the definition of teaching, as well as learning. There was never room for the self-discovery of an answer or what some researchers now call self- learning. At the TED2013 conference SugataMitra talks about Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), he says, “Schools produced identical copies of students, so much so that you could pick one up in New Zealand and drop them down in Canada and they would be instantly functioning. This system is so robust that it is still with us today.” The question is, are the students really learning?

The new and very important emergence of self-learning is changing the world of education as we know it. You can find examples of this here and here. Learning is a journey. It encompasses a broad spectrum of concerns, issues, and topics, rather than just a set of facts. Way to often teachers simply give students the answers without asking any questions. One thing that needs to be looked at more deeply is the idea that people learn most effectively when they are trying to answer their own question.When students have the ability to start asking their own questions, they feel more pride in their education and learning. It allows them to accumulate an understanding of the material, as well as create internal networks and connections on there own. 

So, where do the teachers come in? They are there for guidance. They are the ones who create the natural critical learning environment. (Bain, 2004) Bain also points out that teachers do this with lectures, discussions, case studies, role playing, and even field work depending on the learning objectives. Students need to learn how to tackle authentic and intriguing questions and tasks, to make decisions, to defend their choices, to come up short, to receive feedback on their efforts, and to try again. When questions, issues, or topics are authentic, in that the students came up with the questions on their own, they seem more important and the students are more willing to undertake them. So, how do we get our students to start asking questions, well that is an entirely different feat, but this may help you out. 

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


  1. I totally agree that people learn more effectively when they are answering their own questions. So the role of the teacher (especially of adult learners, but also younger learners) is to lead your students to questioning.

    I really liked the last link you posted. I liked the QFT (Question Formulation Technique) described. So a teacher's role is to facilitate students producing their own questions. I think this can occur in a group discussion or through individual writing/processing exercises. Improving the questions through categorizing and then prioritizing the questions can also occur through group activities or through individual feedback opportunities of the teacher/student. I wonder if the most effective ways of helping students to figure out their next steps would be a combination of group and individual learning.

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  3. I could not agree more Sarah. I honestly think if we took all of the politics that surround education this teaching method could easily be accomplished. Basically, throw out the old way completely and bring in the new.
    Many teachers are afraid of doing this type of learning with their students because of the budget cuts, time restraints, and school closings due to the schools not being "up to par." Some teachers who do put in the extra effort to have a classroom function this way often get into trouble by the administration. They want the teachers to "teach the test" so the school doesn't close and they keep their jobs. While I understand their concern, this method of teaching develops deductive reasoning and high level of functioning, so much so that classrooms that are set up this way usually score the highest on all academic tests.
    Tests are also another issue. Teachers are constantly giving more and more tests that are being required by the government. This gives teachers very little time to let inquiry and self-discovery happen. Or so they think. In my opinion, we should have all teachers re-trained to be able to have a inquiry based classroom environment like you, Sarah, suggested and get the government out of the classroom.

  4. I think the IDEA of self-learning is wonderful. However, I have a feeling that, if implemented on a large scale, we would see a great many students who never make it past middle school. Should this happen, we would see generations with huge chasms between the intellectual and the uneducated with few mediocre minds in the middle.
    Einstein, Darwin, Hawking, and Jobs (to name a few) were all raised in an age where they only learned reading, writing, and arithmetic in school and yet they developed remarkable thinking skills. Perhaps, the ability to develop a great mind and make abstract connections cannot be taught but is inherent. Great thinkers enjoy thinking, love creating and will do this even if they are only given the foundation of the 3 R's. Some people just lack the intellect and/or the interest to have great thoughts.