Who Poses the Questions in Teaching?

In Ontario at present, “inquiry learning” or “problem-based learning” (including “play-based learning”) is widely advocated. However, while many proponents of the approach maintain that all the questions guiding inquiry should come from the students, I (Clive) beg to differ. Although generally in agreement with the approach, I think a balance is needed: teachers should pose questions too.

For example, the students in the course Reflective Professional Development I am teaching this term seem to love the questions we are pursuing; e.g., how much do teachers learn informally, how can informal learning be enhanced, how can formal PD be more effective? I don’t have to push the students at all – in small groups, whole-class discussion, and individual writing they go to work on the questions in quite a refreshing way. However, many of the questions we discuss came from me: they are inherent in the structure of the course and the readings I recommend.

So there has to be a balance. The classroom should be a setting for co-learning or “co-constructivist” learning. Teachers should suggest many of the questions, but also do the following:

  • Let a question go if there is no “uptake” from the students
  • Respect the additional questions and sub-questions students raise
  • Allow the students a lot of air-time so they can identify questions and express their views about them
  • Encourage the students to pursue their own questions in their assignments

Over time, with this approach, we will get a better sense of which questions are interesting and fruitful, and which ones we should pose next time we teach the course, while again looking for new questions from the students.

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