Encouraging Students to Ask Questions

Question MarkWhile reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for a Young Adult literature digital book talk, I read a passage that sent me even further into teacher mode. Charlie, the main character and a “gifted” student, describes how he will be ending his “first year with straight A’s” (Chbosky 165).

Charlie says, “I almost didn’t get an A in math, but then Mr. Carlo told me to stop asking ‘why?’ all the time and just follow the formulas. So, I did. Now, I get perfect scores on all my tests. I just wish I knew what the formulas did. I honestly have no idea” (Chbosky 165).

The sad thing is, this is a relatable school experience for many students. Even if it isn’t directly stated, it can be part of the invisible curriculum. However, asking questions is a huge part of how we learn. I think students suffer when their curiosity isn’t supported. I realized that this was a problem in my own learning. As a math minor, I have struggled in some of my classes and realized in my EMTH 300 class that it was because I was taught formulas, not to think mathematically. It is one thing to be able to plug numbers into a formula, and another entirely to understand the mathematical reasoning behind them. You can’t learn by being fed knowledge to memorize; questions are a necessary mode for deep learning.

Meaningful questions have to be asked by the teacher and the students. As teachers, it’s good practice to keep questions open-ended when you can. However, it is also important that we create a learning environment where student ask questions. On “The Critical Thinking Community,” they say that “thinking is driven by questions” and I can’t agree more. Innovative Management points out questions that people (Newton, Darwin, Einstein) asked that led to great discoveries (learning). This is another reason I want to include inquiry in my classroom.

In EMTH 300, we were asked to re-imagine the teaching of mathematics. The Pythagorean theorem had to be discovered, and students through critical thinking and problem solving can come to the knowledge behind theorems. They don’t need to be force fed formulas. They need to be able to work with idea and ask many questions until they are able to solve problems and construct their knowledge.

As I am currently inquiring into how I can engage learners through student-centered teaching, I thought about how I might take this moment to reflect on how teacher and student questions and inquiry can be a part of it. Edutopia asks the question “How Student Centered is Your Classroom?” in an article that gives two ideas for using questioning to support this kind of learning environment. Specifically, they point to guiding questions and ensuring the teachers role is balanced to support a student-centered design.

After reading the quote from The Perks of Being a WallflowerI was able to see the importance of questioning in learning and in creating a student centered classroom. I really don’t believe that great learning can happen without asking honest and meaningful questions.

What are your thoughts on this quote and the role of asking questions in learning? Do you have anything to add? Please feel welcome to share your thoughts and ask any questions you have.

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999. Print.


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