In October I will be running my third Chicago marathon. I have set a rather high goal of a sub 4hr race. According to runnerworlds.com only 28% of marathon runners are able to run a marathon in less than 4 hours. With the reality of less than 30% running a sub 4hr pace, I am left with a lot of questions.
Before meeting my wife, I was certainly not a runner, and would have never imagined running being a part of my life. The persuasion of someone you love is pretty darn strong! My wife (girlfriend at the time) was preparing to run in a half marathon when we first met, and so to spend some extra time with her I began to run. And boy was I horrible!
As she continued to train, I continued to run. And before you know it, I was hooked and I began the process of becoming a runner. It's been quite the journey, and one that I am so thankful for now. Running is one of my main outlets for handling the stress that comes with my position.
I have certainly become more competitive in my running, and I have the desire to be better and better. My third marathon, and what I hope to accomplish, is a shining example of my increased passion for the sport and for what it has done for me in my life. And this desire to improve has brought to light my need to seek the advice of others who are more seasoned in the sport. Marathon training for me this year means asking a lot of questions!
Friends and family who have successfully completed multiple runs will tire of me by the end of the season. On a weekly basis I am posting questions, texting friends, or bugging my wife for advice. I find myself asking more questions and assuming much less. And I think that's the point.
In order to grow, one must be willing to ask questions!
All of this running got me thinking. As educators, are we doing a good enough job when it comes to encouraging our students to be inquirers?
I ask this question with much more enthusiasm now, as I have seen the benefits of asking questions in my own life. Asking questions is allowing me to become better at something that I am extremely interested in and something that motivates me to become a better version of myself.
Are we encouraging scholars to do the same in the classroom?
I believe if we focus more on scholars asking questions, rather than regurgitating answers, the overall ability of our scholars is bound to grow! Here's my rationale...
#1 - Asking questions is engaging
When scholars ask questions about the work they are doing in class, they are engaging in the content... whether they know it or not. Educators I've had the pleasure of working with have asked me and other colleagues how to increase the engagement in their classroom. After spending so much time learning, and continuing to learn, about my running practices, I believe I have a much better answer to their question.
You see, because I am truly interested in becoming a better runner, my level of engagement has increased. I gauge my engagement based on the time and energy I put toward learning about and practicing what I've learned when it comes to running. When I have free time, I am reading magazines about running, watching YouTube videos from trainers, talking with friends, and taking time to plan out my runs. My overall thought process has turned a focus on my running. It is through my own questions about running, and actually asking those questions, that my engagement increased.
If educators take the time to introduce content that is real and relevant to scholars, and set a hook of interest, then the next step is to create an independent learner. An independent learner is an engaged learner, and and engaged learner asks questions! Engaged learners come to the realization that if they want to know as much as they can, and if they want to be the best they can be, they must ask questions. Questions, hopefully, will consume a scholar's mind and will push them to think about the content of the classroom well beyond the 50 or so minutes they are sitting (or standing) in your space.
#2 - Asking questions is a breeding ground for growth
Asking questions, in my opinion, is like a farmer who takes the time to water and give nutrition to their seeds. (Seeds in this analogy would be the content a teacher planted in the scholar's mind.) In order for an idea, thought, process, or practice to grow in a scholar's mind, it must be nurtured! One's mind can achieve academic growth by asking questions and providing necessary nutrients to their brain that will in turn grow dendrites upon dendrites in their brain.
A week ago Friday, my wife and I were planning when it would be a good time for me to fit in my long run (11 miles). While we were discussing my long run she asked me how much water I had drank that day. So I thought about it and very proudly told her, "I've drank four 20oz. bottles of water." She smirked and informed me that I should had drank at least double that amount. Whoops! But!, because of that conversation, the following week I drank 2.5 times more water. And boy did that help!
Scholars with a seed planted in their minds, who then ask questions to take care of that seed, will be able to see the direct results of asking questions when their knowledge grows. As they continue to ask questions, the more they will know AND the more they will be engaged in the topic. If this practice of questions is used often and is celebrated in the classroom, an educator will quickly realize they now have a room full of independent learners eager for more.
#3 - Asking questions makes us better
One of the most daunting tasks a scholar has to do in the school is ask a question when they get stuck. I have heard scholars say they are afraid to ask questions because they don't want to look "stupid". They are afraid of the social backlash that may come with asking questions, and therefore they push through material they do not understand. This fear of asking questions then effects a scholar's level of engagement and it effects their ability to grow!
My first and second year of running I wanted to prove I had the capacity to run a marathon. I wanted to prove that I had that capacity all on my own. During the first training season I asked no questions. In fact, I skipped quite a few training days for multiple (read bogus) reasons. And as a result, I ran my first marathon in 5:20, almost an hour beyond my goal time! Due to my stubbornness, I went about my second running season much the same as my first. This time I managed to finish in 4:30, but it wasn't as strong of a race as it could have been. My current training season is a season of questions and changed practices!
My suggestion to all is flip the script on the idea of asking questions. Rather than waiting for your scholars to ask questions when they have them, let's start to create an environment where questions are built into the classroom content. Instead of getting to a certain point in your lesson and asking, "Are there any questions?", let's get questions going naturally and early. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to model questioning during the lesson. The educator can create their own questions, maybe even anticipated questions, they can pose while teaching a new concept. Or, there can be embedded time in lessons to have scholars ask their classmates questions they may have. And before moving on to application, encourage scholars to look at the content through multiple lenses to increase their understanding of the concept. Make the act of asking questions "the thing to do" in your classroom, and all of your scholars are sure to benefit.
The rest of my summer I will be asking questions, some about my running, and some about what I can do to improve as an educator. How about you? What questions are you asking? And how do we encourage our scholars to do the same thing?