Important, Intriguing, Beautiful Questions
People are most likely to take a deep approach to their learning when they are trying to answer questions or solve problems that they have come to regard as important, intriguing, or just beautiful. One of the great secrets to fostering deep learning is the ability to help students raise new kinds of questions that they will find fascinating. Sometimes that means beginning with the questions that are already on their minds and helping them see how those inquiries lead to new puzzles.
I love this. And I love the idea that we can allow students (and ourselves) to find beauty in questions. That we should foster that. I mean really, how many beautiful questions did you explore in your education. How many that came from our own hearts? How cool would school have been if there had been more of that?
I look at my own kids and know this: up until this point, their teachers have supplied almost every question they are to find an answer to. (This is changing as next year they’ll both be attending my old high school where inquiry based learning is taking root.) My kids have by and large lost much of their desire to question other than to clarify whatever it is they are supposed to learn. And I know this, too: much of that is my own fault. (When do I get to play the “parenting do-over card”?)
In the context of questions, schools need a reframing. (Can you imagine an exit test where kids ASK the questions instead of answer them?) Bain articulates an interesting shift:
One secret might be in reframing the very nature of education. We often “sell” education as the chance to learn some subjects—chemistry, history, philosophy, business, whatever. In my new book, I explore a different kind of education in which students think of their experience in school as that chance to expand their own capacities and pursue intriguing and important questions and problems. Education can help people become more creative and productive individuals. At the heart of that approach is the realization that every student brings to each question a unique perspective that can be explored and expanded.
And finally this. What is the purpose of school for kids? Is it learning? Really?
The problem that often arises is that we strip people of any sense of purpose. We give them assignments to do rather than stimulate their curiosity with fascinating questions that provoke and challenge. We hold them responsible to a rigid code of conduct rather than helping them to grow. We say to them, I’ve got a mold, and I’m going to fit you into that mold, and if you don’t fit, I’ll trim something off around the edges. We should be saying: what are your questions, what is your background, have you considered this possibility, have you explored this avenue?
Yes, we should.