Friday, February 12, 2010

Teaching Through Questions

Creative teachers know that two processes are foundational in any educational enterprise, pre-school through graduate school: first, some form of collaborative group work and, second, going through the research process to present logical conclusions. Show-and-tell is the backbone of learning, because it requires working with a group and sharing the results of research. In its ideal state, show-and-tell both satisfies and stimulates the curiosity of the group. “Leave them wanting more” is sound advice for any presenter on any level.
The Greek model for education is attractive in its simplicity, isn’t it? Young curious people sat before a teacher of renown and responded to his questions which were designed to force them to think deeply and discover truth logically and on their own. The curiosity came first, along with the thirst for knowledge and the desire to become educated and respected citizens in their community. The parents who sent them to the wise one apparently recognized that the curiosity of their children would require more nurture than they were equipped to supply. Perhaps the parents didn’t know how to ask the right questions and judge responses for logicality.
Humans have always been curious by their nature and thus motivated to “ask” and learn as those in ancient Greece were. But, today, instead of asking questions designed to force students to think, discover and thereby own knowledge, some schools have turned to providing answers to questions the kids have not asked. In other words, some schools have developed test-driven “education” that answers questions the students are not seeking to answer. In many cases, education has become declarative instead of interrogative. Requiring students to memorize answers to questions they have never asked leads to a state of boredom wherein all questions cease and students become smug in their ignorance, even proud of their ignorance in some cases.
Creative teachers--and we still have many--tend towards the methods of collaborative group work in their classes along with carefully monitored research writing. These two educational practices go a long way towards recapturing the ancient Greek model. In the collaborative groups, students grapple with a problem or question that emerges in the group, discuss it at length, deepen their understanding by bouncing their conclusions off each other. They learn good citizenship by respecting their own ideas as well as those of their group. They learn not only collaboration, but courtesy and the highly important skills of articulate persuasion. And, because they “own” their conclusions, lasting learning has taken place.
As to research writing, the student learns to ask questions in an organized fashion, forming conclusions into modules of integrity as he or she produces a document in accordance with strict formal guidelines. The student draws logical conclusions based on a kind of artificial collaboration, that is, various sources from books, journals and other media.
So, to you creative teachers out there who have kept themselves from joining the ranks of the jaded, I say, congratulations. I feel certain that you have done it through engaging your students by an interrogative mode, showing them how to become their own teachers through collaboration and research. Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have been proud.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.
http://danielgfordsblog.blogspot.com

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