the art of the question

As a classroom teacher who believes in rigorous, critical thinking in a student-centered classroom, questions are my lifeline. They birth life in my relationships with students, classroom management, learning, and teacher reflection; they birth growth.

Questions are warm invitations, written with elegant calligraphy, welcoming students into a relationship built on mutual trust, respect, and care rather than an externally-mandated, punishment-based power hierarchy.

Are you ok today? That behavior came out of nowhere? What’s going on?

Questions are the echoing slam of a door in a innocent but misguided face, closing off the entrance to poor choices and hurtful voices.

Is that a good decision? How did that hurt your colleague? How is this damaging to yourself?

Questions are an X-ray, illuminating toxic habits and malignant patterns.

What results are you getting? Are you happy with those results? What if we approach this in a different way?

Questions are a surgeon’s scalpel, precisely cutting away at bull shit that so often topples from the mouths of students caught red-handed being lazy.

Is this your best work? Are you proud of this?

Questions are bombs, erupting a mental war zone.

What if that character isn’t real? Isn’t this true in our own lives, and not just in literature?

Questions are a well-trained bomb squad, coming into a tense and hostile environment, carrying the burden of peace on the path to an apology.

Was I not clear? Those were poor directions, weren’t they? Did I make a false assumption?

Questions are rainshowers, a gentle mist lightly refreshing an ensemble of parched and stilted minds.

How can I make this more engaging? What interests you?

Questions are thunderstorms, wind shaking the roofs of preconceived notions, floods clearing the foundation of settled rocks, and lightning revealing glimpses of the truth in the tortured darkness.

How does this text reveal the cycle of oppression? Are you a victim in that cycle? Are you a perpetrator? How can you create change and empower yourself? Your community?

What would I do without the question?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DM
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 18:17:16

    I want to learn how to ask better questions. 🙂 …I’m a good listener/ know how to give active feedback, love to use word pictures when i communicate know how to really be present when someone is talking to me, and yet, reading your list of questions, makes me think there is still a lot of room to grow in this department. Do you have any suggestions on how to hone this skill?

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    • Mary
      Feb 23, 2014 @ 18:28:29

      Ask questions you’d want to be asked. Ask questions authentic and organic to the moment (which sounds like you’re highly perceptive of). Think of what you’re trying to say, and then turn it into a question–respectfully. Observe good questions and questioners in your life. Thanks again for commenting!

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  2. Ed Oyama
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 22:47:55

    Great post! Fun and creative. Great commentary thus far too!

    One of my favorite things to do when teaching is to draw out a question. I feel like that’s at the core of so many “teachable moments,” you know? If I bring a class to a point where one or more of them have a question that they’re dying to ask – things just feel really dynamic and alive. It’s one of the things I live for in the classroom.

    Curious – what do subjects you teach? And what proportion of the questions in your lessons are planned? Many times, fantastic questions come up in the moment. For me, I usually plan at least one or two questions in advance, but often other ones come up in the middle – not to mention the apologetic questions if things don’t go well!

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    • Mary
      Feb 24, 2014 @ 07:16:29

      I teach AP Literature. I would say I plan some content-questions (much like you) based on assigned reading… but as far as relationship, teacher reflection, management–those arise organically in the moment. I think in that respect, keen perception is the key to an artful question.
      Thanks for commenting and reading Ed!

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  3. Trackback: the puzzle of a positive learning environment: 10 pieces (glue included) | lifeinthedport

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