Questions: Bridging the Known & the Unknown

I spend a lot of time wondering about questions- they fascinate me. Sometimes, it occurs to me that questions are the most powerful drivers of learning possible. Sometimes, I wonder about their countless functions, from exploring causation to their inherent capacity to reshape and reimagine reality. While the magic of crafting the right question is part art, part intuition, part reasoning- the art of responding to questions is equally worthy of investigation.

Here are some of my insights about the nature of questions:

  • Questions are a mechanism through which we navigate the unknown through what we already know, i.e. (even asking a question requires some rudimentary prior knowledge)

  • Questions can shake assumptions and biases- and help refine truths

  • Questions cultivate moral and intellectual courage

  • Questions connect people through shared curiosity and shared pursuits of unknowns

  • Questions can help us make peace with the vulnerability of not knowing and help us remain intellectually humble

And of responding to questions:

  • Answering questions with questions yields richer insight, rather than supplying answers- a simple question such as 'What makes you ask that?, or 'What other questions does this bring to mind?' can help direct the learners' capacity to explore questions

  • Redirecting questions from individual learners to whole group discussions is a beautiful way to let curiosity become contagious

  • Techniques like snowballing, wherein questions from pairs of students are merged in fours, eights and sixteens - are wonderfuls way to celebrate questions

  • Modelling developing questions- and showing learners how to distinguish between different levels of questions can be powerful exercises

  • Question stems and question starts can help even the most hesitant of learners kick-start their own thinking and wondering

Learners with cultural backgrounds where questioning is frowned upon as rudeness or impertinence often tend to hold back from asking questions. We can support them by specifically making space and time in our lessons to invite questions- at the beginning, in the middle and even at the end of units of learning to measure progress in the depth of questions themselves.

The interesting thing about facilitating questions is that- no one ever knows where a question may lead. Facilitators have deep digging to do to come to terms with the uncertainty this poses in the classroom- questions may not always lead to answers. There's much to be gained from learning to sit with the discomfort of not knowing and really wanting to know, and sometimes even accepting that knowing has limits- and who perhaps to lead the way than facilitators themselves?

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