Are questions more important than answers?

children with hands up

Why do I ask?

What did you think when you read the headline of my blog?

Did you pause to reflect on your own opinion?

Did you think about where I might be going with this piece?

Okay, I’ll stop now… maybe!

The point I’m labouring is that questions start thinking, they develop thinking, and they help develop engagement between teacher and learner. They must however be the right questions, at the right time to the right pupil. This is not going to be a blog that harangues you for asking closed questions, they have their time and place with every learner. But there are a wealth of other question types out there that will enhance and deepen learning far more than recalling a date, number or name.

Can you describe your learning environment? I’m not talking displays and learning walls but rather the intellectual space you create and share with your pupils. Are you comfortable not always knowing the answer or how to do something? Do your students know this about you? How? Have you shared how you feel when you don’t know or get something wrong or have they picked it up from how you react when things don’t go to plan?  What have they learned from watching or listening to you in these moments? Are you modelling that it’s okay to not always know the solution? Are you modelling how to compose yourself, then steel yourself to find out? Is it important to share that vulnerability of not knowing or is it enough just to tell them that it is alright to not always know the answer?

My turn, my learning environment, my pupils. In my learning world with my gang of pupils I am comfortable to be wrong, to not know, even to fear a question or topic.  If I am honest, there are many situations outside that bubble where I am not that comfortable to show vulnerability, I’m certain that if you gave my husband an infinite number of typewriters, he would never describe me in that way. However, to show genuine apprehension about a question and demonstrate the learning journey, make real-time connections in front of pupils, who feel that every day in some way or other can be incredibly powerful. Showing that I am not infallible, that learning is a lifelong pursuit, that ‘there is no done!’ (a commonly heard mantra in my classroom) is part of my contract with them, that I will teach them to be learners.

Asking children to think about their understanding, to describe how they see things, to explain to others, supports them to organise their thoughts and spot misconceptions. Dialogue cements relationships, it builds trust, it tells you enough about a person to know when not to ask as well as when to push. The other wonderful thing about questions is that the good ones only lead to more questions, and there we are back at lifelong learning.

In a safe environment, where children feel secure to ask and answer questions of the teacher, themselves and each other, learning cannot help but happen. Not all questions can be answered today, or maybe even tomorrow, but the art of the question is the answer to learning.

If you have students with more questions than you have time to answer, then talk to us about our tutoring for schools services.

Written by Bianca Donald, Curriculum Assistant at TLC LIVE.