It’s Back to School as Usual, But in Many Questioning Classrooms It’s Not School as Usual

I recently got pinged that writer and mother Michelle Woo had linked to in her article “What to Ask Kids Instead of ‘Do You Have Any Questions?’”

I was interested to see that in her article she writes,

“My kid started kindergarten last week, and while she attends a wonderful school, some of her initial comments have left me a little uneasy. Yesterday, she proudly announced that she earned a “superstar” for being so quiet. I’m not sure what to think about that. I just don’t want her to lose that natural instinct of sputtering out questions and thoughts and ideas with abandon (courteously, of course). So when she keeps asking about vehicle flow at 7:25 AM, I will try my best to help her dig for the answers and then say, “What other questions have you got?”

Excellent question! And may I suggest the question that Nobel laureate scientist Izzy Rabin’s mother asked him every day:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist.”

In Michelle Woo’s Lifehacker piece she also quotes a teacher’s recent tweet about the teacher’s role in using questions:

Mrs. Sasser’s tweet shows two things: for educational engagement how important it is to prompt kids to ask some questions (rather than teachers posing all the questions to kids) and how important it is to prompt them in just the right way.

In the many comments following Mrs. Sasser’s tweet, more than a few people quoted this other recent tweet, from a social psychologist at Northern Illinois University:

Both of those tweets advising teachers how to structure effective questions got retweeted thousands of times. There is no doubt that there is a hunger for effective and engaging teaching tools, and deceptively simple questions continue to rank among the best. I’ve seen this hunger firsthand: my 2014 article about questioning, 5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners, still ranks as one of the site’s most shared and popular.

Embracing Questioning at School

Since the launch of A More Beautiful Question in 2014 I get a lot of requests to speak about the power of questioning and none more than from the education world. Even in the era of “teach to the test,” it’s great to see that teachers and school administrators are embracing the transformative culture of questioning. And I’ve seen that they’re not only harnessing the power of questioning by their students but also for their administrations and wider communities.

In late August, I spoke at King School in Stamford, Connecticut, and following my visit I was happy to learn they carried the ball forward by posting the following on their website:

King Staffulty enjoyed an insightful and engaging Professional Growth & Development program today presented by Warren Berger.

Today’s PG&D program posed many questions around topics including culture of care, engaged learning, collaborative culture, and educational technology. A question for our community: How might we become more collaborative? Feel free to comment.

What does all this mean? Questioning, a tool that all young children use instinctively to learn and grow, is now being recognized as a precious skill that dies away, one that needs to be nurtured and celebrated rather than taken for granted. Teachers are embracing the joyful clamor that ensues when they say, “Ask me two questions,” because the curiosity and engagement unleashed by a questioning environment is undeniably powerful and lasting.

It’s back to school as usual this fall, but I’m happy to say that in many questioning classrooms it’s not school as usual. I encourage you to send me or tweet me thoughts on how the parents, teachers, and students you know are fostering a questioning culture in their schools and homes. And remember:


• See my post “Encouraging Student Questioning,” and other related posts on this site under the category Kids and questioning.

• Also see the site for many more articles and tools about kids, education, and questioning. And don’t miss our Ultimate Wonder Wall showing questioning in action!

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

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