Beautiful Questions Students Might Ask | Steve Barkley

Beautiful Questions Students Might Ask

The audio version of The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger is my current companion on my daily walks. Here is what Berger states as to why he wrote the book:

The humble question can be a powerful tool. By asking questions, we learn, analyze, understand—and can move forward in the face of uncertainty. When confronted with almost any demanding situation, in work or life, the act of questioning can help guide us to smart decisions and a sensible course of action. But the questions must be the right ones; the ones that cut to the heart of a complex challenge, or that enable us to see an old problem in a fresh way.

Berger focuses both on questions that we ask other people and questions that we ask ourselves. In one section he explores suggested questions to consider before talking a job. As I listened, I was struck by the thought, “What if students were making a decision to join my class or not?” (I guess in some ways they do decide whether to emotionally and intellectually buy-in.)

I backed up the audio and listened again pulling the questions and pondering, “If students asked these questions about my class, what answers would they arrive at? What decision might they make about joining? How might I influence the answers in the future?”

Berger’s questions to ask before taking a job:

Can the little person rise to the top? What stories are there?

As a student I’m wondering, “What are the stories about students who have studied with this teacher making major increases in their skills and understanding?” Is it a class where the students who enter advanced are encouraged to fly while others are encouraged to pass? Does the achievement gap get smaller or larger across the year? How excitedly do past students describe learning with this teacher?

How does the organization react to mistakes? This influences whether you’ll be able to experiment and grow? Will I be punished for exploring?

As a student I’m wondering about the risk-taking that is encouraged. How does the teacher use the results from assessments? Are mistakes seen as information to guide next steps in learning or as results for grading? What is the connection between making mistakes and progressing in learning?

I am currently studying German on Duolingo and smile every time after I make several consecutive mistakes, and receive a message that says, “Mistakes are a wonderful way to learn.” I wish that as a teacher I had shared a similar message with students. I tended to say that mistakes were “ok”. I know now to celebrate mistakes as indications that learning is coming.

Can I have influence in this organization? Do I have a say?

As a student I’m wondering what role I can play in shaping what happens in this classroom. How much of the learning outcomes and the processes for learning are already determined by the teacher? Do my interests and talents, as well as my needs, influence what I and others in the class will experience. What role does student voice and choice play in this class? Is this teacher a power sharer, giver, or keeper?

How have others here added to their skills?

Female English teacher with two female students sharing earbudsAs a student I’m wondering how successful past students have been learning with this teacher? Are most successful in meeting course standards and objectives? How many students exceed course standards? What learning occurs in skills, understandings, and attitudes that are not part of the course syllabus? Does this teacher influence the person I am becoming?

Does this place encourage camaraderie?

The social aspect of work is more important than most folks think.

Will I enjoy the small pleasures of my routine?

Being happy hinges on the little things you will be doing everyday. As a student I’m wondering if learning in this classroom will be fun. Will I build friendships while learning? Will the classroom environment encourage learning as a social activity?

Learning takes place through the interactions students have with their peers, teachers, and other experts. Teachers can create a learning environment that maximizes the learner’s ability to interact with each other through discussion, collaboration, and feedback.
– Leve Vygotsky

How would I later explain this decision to others?

As a student what would I tell my parents are the reasons I selected this teacher? What would I tell my friends? At the end of this course what are the most important things that will have happened that will impact my decision-making in the future.

As a teacher, consider what students might find out if they explored these questions before enrolling in your class? Which students from your past classes would you want students to interview? Are there students from the past you’d rather they not speak with? Is there any area that emerges from these questions that you would like to have as a focus for expanding your impact? How might you share that focus with you colleagues, instructional coach and maybe your supervisor to gain support?

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