Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

Did you ask a good question today? Well, did you? In our daily interactions with ourselves, with others, or the world around us, we consciously and subconsciously form questions and sometimes answers. Questions range from "What do I want for breakfast?" to "Did I brush my teeth?" to "Why did they eliminate the tan M&Ms?" to "What can be done about violence and poverty in the world?" Some questions are rhetorical, some are open-ended, and most are "yes-no".

The "yes-no" questions can be the most simple, yet the most frustrating questions, especially when you try to engage somebody (your son, daughter, spouse, friend) into a conversation, hoping that the other will “use his/her words”.

Last week, while waiting for a student after school, I overheard the same interaction between parent and child at least 15 times:

Parent: "Did you have a good day at school?"

Child: "Yes."

Here's a variation:

Parent: "What did you learn today?"

Child: "I don't know."

One more:

Parent: "How was school today?"

Child: "Fine."

Ho-hum. Boring. Cliché. Banal. Let's shake it up a bit, and strive to reach levels 5 or 6 in Bloom's Taxonomy, shall we?

Kids frequently have to answer everybody else’s questions, whether from teachers ("What is the answer to #3?), doctors ("How ya feelin' today?"), or from parents ("Did you clean your room?") A response to these questions is a somewhat passive exercise for the brain. So rarely do we ever encourage thought-provoking, higher order thinking skills, also known as questioning.

I'll use my own learning experience to illustrate what I mean. When I studied Italian, I got really, really good at answering my teacher's questions. I used complete sentences with proper grammar and pronunciation in my responses. Four years later, I moved to Rome, Italy for graduate school. I got off the plane and couldn't find my ride to my apartment. A slight panic took over when I realized that I didn't know how to ask the questions to find my ride. And I certainly didn't know how to extend with follow up questions. I struggled to generate even the most basic conversational question because I had never been expected to do so. Fortunately, as a child, I was the pipsqueak who always had to know “why” and “what if”. After a few weeks of making a fool of myself with ridiculous and often embarrassing mistakes, I developed the “mental muscle” for asking questions in another language.

By encouraging people to ask questions, we learn a lot about their mastery of the relevant information. Is the question basic or more complex? You get a lot of insight into another person’s mind by observing the types of questions he or she generates. Scientists, engineers, and creative educators constantly ask questions. Without questions, we stagnate.

Compare these two questions:

"How many legs do spiders have?" vs. "Why do spiders need 8 legs?"

Which is the higher order question? Which allows engaging discussions, creative thought, or multi-layered thought processes?

We can shape learning and self-advocacy skills by helping people develop more pointed, analytical questions. So the next time you pick up your child from school or the bus stop, be sure to find out what question he or she asked in school. Over time, you may find more delight, amusement, and satisfaction in the question than you would in the answer.