Random Thoughts

Fishing for Questions In our Classrooms

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Today we’re going to focus on a resource we used in several of our trainings last year, we call it the “Let’s Go Fishing For Fresh Questions!” protocol. The resource has a menu of three ways to ‘fish for a question’.


In my experience, this resource is useful for SEL because it reminds students that creating and sharing questions builds community, and also establishes a classroom culture where we see curiosity as an asset AND we rehearse advocating for ourselves and others. One thing I hear from teachers in training that I work with is that many of their students feel like they cannot admit to not knowing something, or not knowing how to use a tool. If students don’t learn in school that it is ok to ask for help, where do we expect them to learn it? 

Here’s a question to ponder: Do your students know it’s ok to ask for help? I haven’t met a teacher yet who wouldn’t say “sure!” to that question. Then I ask, what structures do you put in place so that students know it’s ok to ask for help? If your answer is “well, they just know” or “Well, I tell them they can ask for help.” Then you might consider helping students learn HOW to ask for help. Asking for help is a mindset we must foster in our students. It’s a life skill that goes beyond school to the heart of life itself. 

Jackie Welsh talks about this issue in an article she wrote for middleweb.com where she says:

“Why don’t students ask more questions in school? The short answer is that most students believe it’s their job to answer, not ask, questions.”

And I want to pause here for a moment and invite you to reflect on a question:

Who in your life has done the most to teach you how to formulate great questions?

In education many of us have people we admire, folks we look up to. One thing I am working on is noticing how often and how well others use questioning. I’m passionate about inquiry, it has always been a big part of my practice, and the longer I’ve been in education, the more I have come to value questioning as a craft. 

This is why this resource resonates with me so deeply: it gives students an accessible menu to use in rehearsing the art of building better questions. We talk a big game in schools about wanting our students to be curious about the world around them, and if we really mean it, don’t we need to engage them in strategies that foster curiosity?

Harvard Business Review looks at data that says YES, most employers say they value curiosity, but that there is a big disconnect between how much employees say they feel their curiosity is truly valued by their employer. And I’m wondering, if we asked our students to tell us when and where they think we, their teachers, have valued their curiosity, what would we learn? What would your students tell you?

A small shift that I will be making in my practice is that I am going to be sure that the office hours I hold with teachers learning with me will have a menu of question starters–and I’ll explicitly say ‘this menu is not meant to be prescriptive, but it is meant to help us ask better questions as a community.’ 

When watching my favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, during warm up, it dawned on me that question-construction is a little bit like what you see before the start of a game. You’ll have players help each other with stretches,  players gradually loosening their arms, and of course batting practice. The thing about pre-game warmups is they are collaborative. There is a building of flow a building of energy. If you look closely you’ll see players laughing and smiling. Why? They know that the right mindset matters at game time. So if one of them drops a ball during warm ups, or if they have a terrible pre-game batting practice they support each other.  And I think that same mindset can really help in the classroom. I think baseball is the perfect analogy for exploring question construction (and let’s be honest I can make a baseball analogy fit almost any idea). 

Let’s talk bunting……Bunting is a skill that, in my opinion, gets overlooked by many in today’s game. Bunting the ball isn’t easy, it isn’t glamorous, it isn’t fun to watch, but you know what, it is a critical part of the game of baseball. In fact, the game that I went to was won in the bottom of the 9th because a player was able to bunt a runner from 1st to 2nd, putting him in scoring position. The next batter hit a single, runner from 2nd scores, game over. Of course everyone remembers the person who hit the single to win the game, but the real hero…the teammate who gave himself up, sacrificed himself for the good of his team. 

Sticking with my metaphor, I’m going to start asking students to ‘bunt,’ meaning I will say—you may not have the wow question ready yet, we as a team might need to bunt first, we might need to move our questions, our curiosity up a bit before the big question hits us. We might have to sacrifice what we think we know to be true to make room for something new, something better. What is something we need to ask more questions about before we continue?

I think throwing a few questions around, playing catch with each other’s questions and building on them will build camaraderie and foster the kind of relationships I want my students to have access to. If you have a better analogy or another sport that you think compares to the practice of collectively building questions I would love to hear from you.

As I reflect on this…I think about how Tricia, Chrissy and I work together during a brainstorming session. We start asking questions, we start answering questions, which leads to more questions. All these questions are bunts. Then all of a sudden, and rarely is it me, someone will ask the question we really were trying to get at? That’s the game winner and how do I know…because usually when Tricia or Chrissy asks the question, I get chills, I just go “WOW, and I can literally fill a whole new part of my brain open up. That is what I want for my students, for teachers in my trainings, I want them to experience that moment of “That might be the best question ever!” moment that unlocks a whole new potential of learning. 

Again, you can find our fishing for questions resource in the free guide “Small Significant Shifts for Stronger SEL” if you do use this resource or any other out of the free guide please leave a comment and let us know how it went! 

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.

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