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☰ Asking the Right Questions

Head's Blog

Asking the Right Questions

Posted on November 14 2018

It was Sunday morning and I was on my way back from running club with my youngest in the car and the radio was awash with remembrance discussion and quotes. My daughter and I started to talk about the relevance of such a special occasion, who we were remembering and why? Inevitably, the conversation evolved onto talking about World War 1 and the centenary of the end of this infamous war. Despite the sombre atmosphere, our dialogue led into a smile, as when asked about the peace treaty, my youngest replied with ‘treaty, isn’t that something you give to a dog when he’s been good?’. Evidently, not only do I need to concentrate on a little more verbal reasoning with my youngest, but I also didn’t ask the right question in the first place. Asking the right question, at the right time is a little more difficult than one might imagine.

As parents we constantly engage and question our children, so that we have a greater insight into their day. Often, we ask the fairly typical parent questions, including the completely unoriginal and certainly not open-ended, ‘How was your day?’  And, not surprisingly, some days that question results in only a vague sort of grunt and limited reply. In all fairness, after a long day, filled with so many different experiences and interactions, I don’t always have a good answer for that question either. But if the right question was posed and someone asked me, ‘Who made you smile today?’ or ‘What are you proudest of today’ I might be more inclined to pause, think and formalise a more detailed response.

At Forest Park, one of the things we do well is create learning opportunities that compel our children to think and ask questions about their learning. To ‘pose questions as often as they devise solutions’ is part of our school ethos to improve learning. These meaningful opportunities, grounded in best practice and an understanding of child development, foster a greater understanding. And a greater understanding is the foundation of lifelong learning.

Over the course of the past year or two at Forest Park, we have been looking carefully at our use of higher order thinking and use of questioning to gauge a deeper understanding of concepts and skills. During our regular cycle of progress meetings and feedback sessions staff have shared experiences between year groups and reflected upon good practise. As is true of any good learning opportunity, these discussions generated a number of further questions for us to ponder as a team:

At Forest Park, every instructional decision we make comes from what we know about our children combined with our experience as educators. Rooting our work in best practice and research is essential, but to meet the needs of our pupils, year to year, we must be open to and willing to ask questions. When we ask questions of one another and answer the questions put to us, we can better examine the decisions we have made and will make. The questions we ask ourselves and our ability to truly question our practice leads us to stronger pedagogy and forces us to be authentic and flexible.

Real, authentic questions can create uncertainty at times, but when asked in a learning environment such as Forest Park, they are often exciting, rewarding and probe further. The questions we ask reflect the learning community we are in, and the community we hope to build for our pupils. Asking the same questions over and again can only produce the same results. We want our children to think deeply. We want Forest Park pupils to leave here, not only with many questions answered, but with more questions to ask, the right questions to ask.

Sadly, the amount of inquisitive questions posed by a young mind diminishes the older they get. Research shows that children ask, on average, 400 questions per day when they are four years old, but by the age of eight this has reduced by 100 questions to 300. A quarter of all questions posed by a young learner are lost along the way. By the time they enter the juniors most children have lost interest in asking questions and can often find that their motivation for learning also wains. Which raises an interesting question: Have children stopped asking questions because they’ve lost interest? Or have they lost interest because the rote answers-driven school system established within the UK doesn’t allow them to ask enough questions?

Fortunately, at Forest Park the motivation and interest continues to prosper. It would be very interesting to see how the questions per day are managed and whether these are maintained at our school. It is near on impossible to monitor, but what we are actively seeking is to create is a more open ended inquisitive ethos to enhance our pupils learning. Because, the questions our children ask give us a window into their minds and hearts. Listen carefully to what they have to say and do not be afraid to be the one asking the questions. Just make sure they are the right ones and that you ask again and again and again!

Nick Tucker

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