Friday, April 03, 2015

The Inverse Drop In Questions

It is of great concern to educators that the percentage of students who ask questions during plummets from near 100% when they are 2 years of age to only 25% by the time they are 18 and finishing high school.

It is the inverse of the percentage who gain the ability to read and write during those years and parallels the decline in the number of students who are engaged in learning.

It isn’t coincidence that it also parallels engagement in the American workforce, including those in management and policy-making.

Somewhere in that decline, the majority of Americans lose their ability to be creative and innovative because they focus almost solely on answers rather than asking questions.

Sometimes it is cultural.  In the South, where I have lived for 26 years now, it seems that questions are often interpreted as criticism.  From there it is only a short hop to avoiding crucial confrontations and/or conversations.

Polluting the process even more in the workplace is the tendency of some people to make statements that should be in the form of questions.

Or another gimmick is to appear to be asking a question at a public gathering, but in essence, doing so only to toot your own horn or score brownie points.

The Right Question Institute is working to help educators focus on teaching how to inquire rather than just memorizing answers.

This includes publishing a primer entitled, Make Just One Change.

For the workplace, an excellent article just appeared in Harvard Business Review entitled, Relearning the Art of Asking Questions.

This could also be used to help teach how to ask questions in the workplace or among stakeholders in community endeavors, even on List Serves.

The authors, who work for Mu Sigma, provide a model for asking better questions as well as taking them in stride.  In my experience, I agree that far too many meetings fail because people “talk past each other.”

The model divides questions into those seeking a wider view of the issue under discussion vs. those that seek to narrow or deepen the discussion.  In both instances, there are questions meant to affirm what we know and those meant to discover something new.

Questions are divided into those that are adjoining or elevating to the topic at hand (think strategic) and those that are clarifying or seek to drill down deeper into the topic.

With some of the groups with which I am involved in retirement, it would probably be useful if we each prefaced our questions using with one of these four purposes (smile) or places a notation on the agenda signifying which kind of questions are in order.

Questions are not criticism or challenges.  They are gateways to learning, enlightenment, alignment, creativity and innovation.

They are as important to adults as they were when we asked an average of 40,000 questions between the age of 3 and 5.

1 comment:

Durham Skywriter said...

I've noticed that there are varying teaching styles, some more successful than others. The sad part about the teaching profession is that teachers are increasingly being denied opportunities to find creative ways to reach their students — especially in places like my home town, Chicago … and even more especially in low-income areas. In the 1990s, the Chicago mayor tried to put in place strict, word-for-word scripts that teachers were to use in their classes! Teachers shot that down, but even today complain that they have lost the right to explore concepts. For example, if a student raises his hand during a test and says that he doesn't quite understand the question, teachers are barred from rewording it and can only tell the student to do the best he can.

It's unfortunate that creativity is becoming unpalatable. Culturally speaking, some teachers have the means to find new, more interactive ways to teach. Some studies have found that a particularly African-American style of teaching — a more advocacy-based rather than rote/dictatorial style — allows students to engage more and to ask questions. I was brought up such a system and allude to it when people remark on how "smart" I am. Rather than agreeing that I'm all that smart, I do admit that I'm adept identifying nuance, seeing between the lines, balancing opposing opinions, and questioning the status quo. Many teachers would find these traits troubling, but I honestly believe that they lead to encouraging young people to grow up to be less complacent, more active citizens.