As a Montessori Upper Elementary guide of 9-12 year olds, I swear, my students likely thought I didn’t know anything! I was always asking questions and when an inquiry came my way from a student, whether or not I knew the answer, my response was usually, “I’m not sure, let’s go look that up.” What I didn’t realize, is that my natural tendency to put the critical thinking and resourcefulness on my students is a strategy backed by science!
Questions Drive Curiosity
Question-driven learning is known to increase curiosity, purpose and attention. We’ve focused a lot on purposeful learning, but curiosity? I’m totally curious about curiosity and how it drives learning! What I’ve learned is that the mechanisms of curiosity are that it activates the brains reward and memory systems.
I’m also curious about whether any kind of question will do or if there are better ways to engage curiosity with certain kinds of questions. What I found out is that yes, developing a good question will enhance critical thinking and spark curiosity. What constitutes a good question?
What Kind of Questions Enhance Learning?
You might think as I did that a good question would have a well-developed, clearly stated goal and the steps or rules for moving towards that goal such as, “To find out why Ancestral Puebloans left their home and migrated south, shouldn’t we take a look at the climate of the area during this period, the flora and fauna that sustained their communities, and any known tribal warfare?”
However, what we know about curiosity is that sometimes it is the ill-structure problems with no single correct solutions that are better suited to make learners dive deep and learn how to solve problems. Maybe the far simpler question such as, “I wonder why the Ancestral Puebloans left their homes?” is far more intriguing and promotes deeper thinking.
There are three strategies outlined below that promise to enhance question-driven learning in your environment.
Quick Tips for Quickening Learning through Questions
- Set the Stage: Rather than formulate any question at all, guide your learners to generate their own questions. We know as humans that when you have more “skin in the game”, you are more likely to increase your participation. Your job is to create a compelling context within which your students wants to ask their own questions!
- This strategy is already inherent in our Montessori pedagogy yet deserves some repetitions as sometimes our egos get in the way. Rather than focusing on “teaching” as a sage on the stage, shake up your paradigm and cultivate your coaching skills. When your students stop seeking you out as the omniscient guru and instead come to you for guidance as they lead their own learning, you’ll find they are more likely to come up with some fantastic questions that drive their learning!
- Nurture and utilize an “Inquiry Cycle” as a community habit to generate questions. Your practice doesn’t have to mimic this cycle exactly, you could come up with a cycle of your own that leads to question-driven learning.
What is your plan for promoting questions and their subsequent inquiry?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.