Questions Over Answers

What Students Need Are More Questions Than Answers


We’ve often heard the expression: “there are no bad questions.”  But could this be true?


World-leading educator Dr. Caleb Gattegno spent a great deal of time pondering just this question; and he saw within the answer the key to obtaining new and higher levels of knowledge in easier and more efficient ways.


Questions mobilize learning: “Good questions should loosen and remove the grip of familiarity on our perception of the realities we are involved with, and it put us in an attentive and alert state.”


In other words, the key to accessing new and worthwhile knowledge lies in being able to question what may seem obvious and familiar to us.  That is how we can gain access to our own intuitive thinking processes where the most complex of problems are solved.


History is littered with great thinkers and inventors who began their knowledge quest with what seemed liked an obvious question that led to creating a unique piece of knowledge or truth, such as Archimedes who one day is said to have asked: “Why is it that we can float in the tub?” Or Newton who looked at the moon and then at an apple, and wondered: “Why doesn’t the moon fall from the sky the way an apple falls from a tree?”


It was a “why question” that contributed to Gattegno’s own understanding of how we learn, when he asked:  “Why is it that the young can learn so much, such as a whole language, yet the general belief remains that babies have no intellectual powers at their disposal?


The “why” question is truly a probing one. It’s the one as children that we asked the most as we explored how the world works and our place in it.  According to Gattegno, a “why” question leads to “self-examination, which in turn, generates further questions, all of which have the potential to help us overcome our insensitivity to the reality around us, as well as our inner capacity to notice much more of it.”


However, the best questions are not necessarily “why” questions but could be any question that generates further questions and frees us up to think intuitively, which is at one with our sense of what we know internally to be true or right. Hence, good questions are what drive our personal evolution and, in some cases, the world’s as well, when they lead to new knowledge and ideas.


This is opposed to questions that “cancel themselves out” upon getting an initial answer.  “What is your name?”, “What time is it?”, or “Is it raining?” are obviously legitimate questions but one’s that really don’t  go behind any awareness of the immediate needs that generate them.


Therefore, while there may not be any “bad” questions per se, there is a hierarchy of questions; and, as a rule of thumb for educators,  “a good question is one that generates fifty new ones,” according to Gattegno.


In the classroom, generating 50 new questions without providing the answers requires some practice and understanding of how to create challenges that deeply engage students.  However, it begins with a teacher’s own awareness of how questioning the obvious and familiar can soon led to understanding complex topics and even the creation of new knowledge, if  “good” questions are asked.

Sima Gandhi