Now THAT’s a Good Question

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questions02afor webI just read an article[1] about adults being led in RE-learning how to ask good questions. Questions are so important in early learning that naturally I was interested, even though the article was aimed at those in business. Then I reflected on the RE part of re-learning. The authors cited figures about the declining numbers of questions asked by four year olds as they grow into adulthood.

Of course, childhood is where we learn to ask questions. We are born knowing next to nothing, yet by age five or six we can speak a language fluently, navigate around the neighborhood, develop friendships and interests, and we do it all pretty much by listening to and watching the people and the world we live in and all the time asking laser-focused questions.

Back to that article I read, the authors (both business experts) contend there are four kinds of questions they feel successful folks use to steer conversation in a productive direction in business. I have changed their language a bit to steer my blog in a productive direction as well in learning as well, this time focused on school learning.

  1. Clarifying questions help children better understand what has been said or what they have observed.
  2. Adjoining questions are used to explore related aspects of a problem or event in the conversation of adults that are confusing to children.
  3. Funneling questions are used to dive deeper. Children ask these to understand how an answer was derived, to challenge assumptions that don’t fit their current understandings and to understand the root causes of problems they encounter in life.
  4. Elevating questions raise broader issues and highlight the biggest picture they are capable of taking in.  They help kids zoom out from the particulars.

These four types of questions should be very familiar to parents and educators who handle a thousand questions each day from their wide-eyed kiddos. If encouraged and supported, kids ask all of these kinds of questions, throughout the day, every day. Questions initiate engagements. Powered by personal curiosity or confusion, they push out the boundaries of understanding and open new territory to investigation. Here are some kid questions:

Clarifying – Why does Jazzy  (the cat) sleep all day?

Adjoining – It doesn’t seem to bother Jazzy to be awakened when we pet her. Does she like sleeping or not?

Funneling – The baby sleeps all day, too. Lindy cries when she wakes up. She must like sleeping. Is that why you make us be quiet when she is asleep?

Elevating – Jazzy and Lindy both like to sleep a lot, don’t they? Why don’t I like to sleep a lot?

Given that they clearly learn so much from asking questions, it feels like a shame that children reduce their asking of questions as they get older. It’s certainly not because they don’t have expanding interests and unbounded curiosity. Perhaps it’s because adults squelch their questions, so I invite you to consider a possibly more productive direction about questions:

  • Why do you think children stop asking so many good questions?
  • How do you think parents and teachers might somehow be teaching them to stop asking questions or fail to do what is necessary to keep kids’ questioning alive?
  • What could we do to encourage/invite them to ask questions? What could we do to actually help kids ask better and better questions?
  • What might happen across a community and in school if we reflect upon and respond to kids’ questions rather than typically asking them to answer ours?
  • How could we unite as a community around rebuilding such a powerful, natural learning tool?


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