Discovering new answers
Four hundred years before Christ was born, there lived in Athens a remarkable man. He was small, bald and had a dome-shaped head. Under it was a face that was a study in contrast. It was small bit alive and alert. He had a flowing beard which did not belong to that face at all.
The man had an engaging talent. He knew how to ask questions. Standing at a familiar street corner in his loose tunic, he would buttonhole an unwary passer-by (the more important looking, the better) and pose a simple question. He always sounded humble as if he was genuinely looking for clarification (though a keen observer would have detected a mischivious twinkle in those sharp eyes) and this made the reply irresistible. One question would lead to another and soon a crowd would gather round for a lively debate till our old man had the last word which was probably a question.
This was Socrates. Without ever writing a word, he exercised a deep influence over the men of his time and his only weapon was skillful questioning. He pretended that he didn't know much and badgered people with questions. These were probing and thought - provoking and eventually led to some extra-ordinary truths.
Questioning is the basis of all scientific progress. Our Curiosity us expressed in the two fundamental questions "how" and "why". Most of the amenities that we use today are products of such questioning. The ballpoint pen with which I write is a direct result of the Biro brothers asking themselves how they could avoid the hassles of spilling ink on the paper.
Questioning generates ideas. It helps to focus attention on the topic of discussion. Systematic questioning leads to clear thinking and a logical answer. It helps to define terms and analyze concepts.
A class which is taught not to accept what is routinely dished out by the teacher but to question her statements creatively keeps the teacher on her toes. She anticipates their questions and comes prepared to answer them. She can also channel their doubts into looking up reference material and spending more time in the library.
Creative questioning allows plenty of room for interaction between students as a question posed by a student can be diverted to the class for answers. It also provides opportunities for learners to actually use the language to gain information.
Creative questioning can be employed to teach poetry. A colleague of mine once taught an entire poem by Wordsworth simply through posing appropriate questions. She read out the poem and asked questions designed to bring out the theme, depth and beauty of Wordsworth's lines. When she came across an unfamiliar word or turn of phrase, she made her questions referential and encouraged the students to interpret the words in the context of the line. Her questioning led the class to total involvement with the poem and the class ended with a minimum effort from the teacher and a wonderful experience for the students who felt thrilled at being able to interpret a poem entirely by themselves. The icing on the cake was the satisfaction that their opinions were accepted by the class and the teacher.
Questioning spices up even the most boring prose. Once a teacher abandoned the text when she reached a particular point of a prose lesson and asked her students to complete it themselves. This set their creative juices flowing and the teacher found that her class would have been able to give the author / authoress a run for his / her money.
Writing compositions is another area where questioning can be very effective. Children can be made to write an entire essay simply by answering questions. After all, the basic principle of journalism is to ask those five Ws and an H to get started.
Unquestionably, questioning promotes communication. Ask questions in class and teach the children to seek answers creatively. The answers can be rewarding to both the parties.
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