As I continue to explore the role that student questioning can play in the classroom (see here and here), I learned an important lesson from Paul Bennett, the creative director at IDEO, a firm known for driving innovation.  Bennett — who is quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question — believes approaching challenges with intellectual vulnerability is essential to driving innovation:

“I position myself relentlessly as an idiot at IDEO and that’s not a negative, it’s a positive.  Because being comfortable with not knowing — that’s the first part of being able to question.”  

(Bennett as quoted in Berger, 2014, p. 80)

Bennett is right, isn’t he?  If we aren’t “comfortable with not knowing”, there’s no chance that we will ever truly embrace questioning because questioning is an inherently vulnerable act — particularly in environments where being successful is synonymous with “having the right answer.”

So I whipped up a handout that I plan to use whenever we are studying a new topic.  Check it out here:

Handout – Think, Pair, Square

The task is a simple one:  Students begin by thinking about our new concept alone for 2-3 minutes.  While working, they are asked to consider both what they already think they know about the topic that we are studying AND to pinpoint places where their notions might be flawed.

My goal is to emphasize that “being wrong” — particularly about a topic that is new to them — ISN’T something to fear and that it’s NOT a reflection of an individual’s intellectual ability or self-worth.  Instead, flawed notions are to be expected and embraced because they can become starting points for new discoveries.

Then, students meet with a partner to review their initial notions for 2-3 minutes.  During this conversation, students are encouraged to discuss their shared notions with one another — finding areas of overlap AND pointing out potential flaws in the initial thinking of their partners.  Again, the goal is to help my students to be “comfortable with not knowing” in front of their peers.

Finally, pairs of partners join together into thinking squares for a final 2-3 minute conversation centered around spotlighting gaps in student knowledge that are worth wrestling with.  My hope is that after thinking alone and then with a partner, students will have enough sense of what they DON’T know to develop a few interesting questions together.

So whaddya’ think of this activity?  Is it something you’d use as is?  How would you change it?  


Related Radical Reads:

Where Have All the Beautiful Questions Gone?

More on Student Questioning in the Classroom

How Testing will Change What I Teach Next Year


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