Great Questions Stimulate Imagination
Several weeks ago my wife and I went to see a movie. Being the parents of two young kids, we think of getting out to see a movie, as compared to renting one, as a real treat. As we left the theater we could hear comments, bits of conversation about the film. Except for a few individuals, everyone-whether 4, 24, 34 or 44 years of age-had the same initial reaction: "I liked it" or "I didn't like it."
It struck me that here was a pretty good metaphor for what often-too often-goes on in our classrooms. Comments on any subject, which are only someone's personal opinion, do not tell us descriptively and objectively what that person actually saw or heard, nor how he or she interpreted the experience. Such comments fall short of helping those who are supposed to benefit from them gain new insights through reflective thought: they merely enable them to make quick judgments.
Let us return briefly to my fellow filmgoers. As I mentioned, some of them did exchange interesting additional questions, which led them to more informed responses. Analysis and interpretation had entered their conversation, examining the elements that make up the work and how they relate to one another, asking the sort of questions that allow us to speculate on the meanings of the "object" which we have-perhaps unconsciously-suddenly begun to study.
Kids love to ask questions. They seek knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and placement by asking questions. And, if properly encouraged and nurtured, they learn to ask great questions. Questioning ceases to be a novelty and instead becomes a habit, an easy habit with which they will challenge the unexplained and investigate the new in their lives. But a question, or questioning, is often not viewed as an important enough part of-for teachers or for students. On the contrary: these days, the balance seems to shift increasingly toward "right" answers, not good questions. Yet it is the process of questioning that fosters the development of students' imagination and stimulates them to make their own discoveries. Rigorous questioning by students, mixed with access to informed content, helps raise new questions and helps guide the student toward further exploration, investigation, and research.
The tricky aspect of this process is not to succumb to the notion that any question is a good question, nor any response a good response. Questions and comments may arise that have nothing to do with the subject under discussion and do not help anyone, including the speaker, find new insights. I absolutely dispute the notion of "no wrong questions, no wrong answers," if simply on the grounds that the concept is too loose educationally and overly open-ended in its premise. In education, and toward the end of assisting students in employing productive strategies throughout their daily lives-whether they are engaged with a movie, a dance, a sunset, or a math problem-they must be encouraged to look inside, underneath, and behind the topic under study. As the artist Cezanne said, "Our eyes see the front of a painting-imagination curves to the other side."#