Every year I start the year with an assignment for parents: Tell me about your child in a Million Words or less. As I tell my students’ parents – school records are but one way I have to get to know their child. I value parents’ perspective as I believe that they know their child best.
Parent responses never fail to amaze me. They offer a glimpse into a child’s world and his or her relationship with his parents that might never come out otherwise.
This year, one parent’s response truly made me stop and think. It came from a parent of a new student who was coming to our school from a different school system in another country. This was the parent’s response:
“The (former) system and its teaching staff do not encourage students to ask questions. When I raised this issue with his teachers, I was advised that they are only required to explain the lesson once and should the student fail to comprehend it, that was the parent’s problem. As my son was newly exposed to the language and his classmates spoke it fluently, he encountered many obstacles, academically and socially. The result was an utter lack of confidence in himself and his abilities.”
No wonder this student, who was new to our school, was having such difficulty with asking questions! Be they “wondering” questions, or simply questions for seeking clarification, he just wasn’t asking them. I would sit with him and ask him to come up with any question – silly questions, irrelevant questions… anything! Nothing.
Asking questions – quick questions, deep questions, hypothetical questions, probing questions, essential questions – is an important part of what we do in our fifth grade class, and in our elementary school in general. It is so important to our approach that we have it on our report card in various forms: “Asks relevant questions”, “Seeks meaningful help when necessary (eg asks for clarification or repeated instructions)” “Considers other viewpoints” “Makes and tests predictions based on explorations and experiments” to name but a few. Students are encouraged – required even- to be asking questions all the time.
Inquiry requires that the right conditions be in place. It involves building trust and confidence right from the start, and modeling and practicing different types of questions.
Children are naturally curious, and it is a tragedy when a teacher, school, or system quells this sense of wonder in a child.
What to do when a child comes from a system where s/he is penalized for asking questions to one where s/he is almost penalized for not asking them? (Since we are required to evaluate and report on student questioning)… How to re-awaken a child’s spontaneous inquisitiveness?