Questions or answers… which are more important for learning?

I used to think that effective teaching lead to correct answers. I would have some answers tucked into my mind as the goals or objectives of my lessons.  Sometimes, these answers were in the form of information, “Students will demonstrate their understanding of…”  Other times, the answers were in the form of skills, “Students will be able to…”  At the end of the day, or the end of the week, students would take the quiz or test and if they could successfully parrot my answers back to me, I would think that my students and I had done a good job.

Over the years, I’ve become less and less concerned with answers. I’ve become much more curious about questions. Now, I want my students to think of good questions rather than correct answers.  When they ask good questions, I know that they understand the information I want them to know.  When they ask good questions, I know that they are using the skills I want them to gain. When they ask good questions, I know that they are thinking deeply about the subject.

One year, a puzzled-faced fourteen-year-old girl struck up a conversation with me one afternoon.

“I was reading here in Hammurabi’s code,” she began.  “I get how it says that if the farmer doesn’t keep the levees on his land in good repair, and when the river floods, the levee breaks and ruins his neighbor’s land that he’s responsible to repair the damage and pay the neighbor for the neighbor’s ruined crops. I get that,”

“But what if the farmer was renting the land?”

I’ve been thinking more and more about this again, prompted by a novel I read over the summer..  The novel  is set, in part, in a school-like setting.  One of the characters was discussing an impossible riddle he had been mulling over.  “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most.  If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact.  But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers…  That way, when he finds the answers, they’ll be precious to him.  The harder the questions, the harder we hunt. The harder we hunt, the more we learn.”

This year: I’m staying focused on questions and letting the answers take care of themselves.

How about you?

 

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