Where do I begin?
While reading Anti-teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance and the first two chapters of Ellen Langer’s Mindful Learning, I kept thinking about a book I recently read called In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms, by Brooks and Brooks. As described in this book, students construct their own understanding of the world and transform new information based on prior experiences.
The book describes 5 principles of constructivist classrooms:
- Teachers pose problems that are relevant
- Teachers build lessons around primary concepts
- Teachers seek and value the views of their students
- Classroom activities challenge students’ uncertain beliefs
- Teachers assess students in daily activities
A common element in these five principles is the importance of questions. To pose relevant problems, teachers ask questions about topics and problems that are relevant to the student. To identify and build ideas around primary concepts, teachers ask questions and provide materials that help students identify their own concepts. In seeking the views of their students, teachers ask students to describe their point of view to better understand students’ reasoning, existing beliefs, and perspectives. To incorporate aspects into the curriculum that challenge students’ misconceptions and suppositions, a teacher first needs to understand what those misconceptions are through questions and feedback from students. And to assess students in daily activities, teachers ask questions to better understand the type of help the student needs.
And while questions are not the only aspect of constructivism or constructivist classrooms, they are an important part. Questions are an important part of learning, and questions should be an important part of education. However, the only two questions typically asked in classroom settings by teachers are: what is the answer? and are there any questions?
These two questions do not inspire, do not encourage, and do not invite participation. So how can we inspire? How can we encourage learning, discovery, and exploration? And how can we create a dialogue instead of a monologue that students mindlessly repeat?