September 6, 2016

by Alexis Hopper, Program Coordinator

 “The art and science behind questions is the source of all knowledge” –Thomas Berger, novelist

On occasion, I remember to ask my husband questions like, “If you had to write a book, would you write a science fiction novel or historical drama?” Such a question invariably leads to a series of other questions, which then leads to a rabbit hole of sorts in which I discover answers to questions that I had no idea I wanted to ask.

And so begins a blog about questions.

We know from experience that questions can make us squirm, laugh, cry and dance. Questions can make us ask, “What’s the difference?” or “Why are you asking?”. We know that questions rarely result in a complete lack of new information, as even a silent reply is telling. But what is the difference between questions that truly engage and questions that shut things down?

For young inquisitive minds, the right question can ignite imagination, inspire surprising solutions, and validate multi-faceted perspectives that strengthen their purpose and place in the world. No matter where they are or who they are in conversation with, the right question can be the sorcerer for a special kind of magic.

For the gifted learner who is exploring truly challenging curriculum, posing what are known as closed questions can be likened to offering a friend who is thirsty a tall 32 ounce glass of salt. Although these closed (or “skinny”) questions can be utilized for a number of valid purposes, they can’t provide a direct pathway to reflection and discovery. Furthermore, a  key difference between closed and open questions is that, short of providing what would be considered an incorrect answer, closed questions offer little to no opportunity for a variety of responses. Therefore, regardless of sophistication of topic or theme, closed questions leave no room for the wellspring of one’s being: expression of self.

As an early career teacher, I thought that anything I asked introduced by a what, how, or why qualified as an open question. If I didn’t get a Yes/No answer, I thought I was doing alright. However, I came to find out (think about that expression for a second) that both open and closed questions can have similar interrogative constructions. It is only by considering a question’s versatility as a tool for empowered learning that a student can explore possibilities beyond what is expected and known. Therein lies the art and science of questioning.

Below are examples of open-ended questions taken from an article that I like called Questioning Techniques for Gifted Leaners, by Glenda Pearce. In it she delves into the why and what-for of investigative strategies, and explores six categories of Socratic questioning as conceived of by fellow author Dr. Richard Paul:

Questions of clarification

What do you mean by that?

Can you give me an example?

Questions that probe assumptions

What is being assumed?

Why would somebody say that?

Questions that probe reason and evidence

What are your reasons for saying that?

What criteria do you base that argument on?

Questions that probe implications and consequences

What might be the consequences of behaving like that?

Do you think you might be jumping to conclusions?

Questions about viewpoints or perspectives

What would be another way of saying that?

How do Maria’s ideas differ from Peter’s?

Questions about the question

How is that question going to help us?

Can you think of any other questions that might be useful?

If you found these questions to be compelling, you can find additional illuminated strategies here.

In closing, I would like to offer a final question for possible exploration in future posts: Why is it, when we ask questions inviting deep thought, can they seemingly fail to give us the answers we had hoped for?

Until then, I take comfort in knowing that when a question is asked, an answer exists, even if down in a rabbit hole.

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