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The Power of Potent Questions

Really good questions are treasures. When you ask a question that brings a quizzical look, a question that rouses reflection- that is the stuff of life.

We focus on the art of listening- as we well should. But with curiosity and potent questions, listening becomes completely natural.

When we want to know people, we ask questions. When we care, we ask questions. When we want to make someone feel good, we ask questions.

Ask, then wait.

One of the best pieces of teaching advice I ever received: do not ask a question you already know the answer to. That’s a bigger idea than it sounds. (Another topic I’ll return to- wow, how that would change teaching!)

The corollary: listen as if you do not know the answer. Be ready to be surprised. Be ready to learn. Be ready to adjust your own thoughts.

And it’s always good to have a few thought-provoking questions in your back pocket.

If you want some questions to keep on the dinner table or in the classroom, our family loves Table Topics. There are varied focuses. We have tried many in our family- the original has proven the most solid for us. (Um- awesome gift idea…)

Link to Solid Question Resources

Asking Reflective Questions in the Classroom

In the classroom, asking questions to know our students is what keeps them coming back.

Of course the questions I kept coming back to- when confused about a student’s behavior:

  • Did you eat breakfast?
  • What time did you go to bed last night?
  • Is there something happening for you that might be getting in your way today?

Frankly, those first and second questions quickly saved SO many days for my students and me.

Writing and Reflecting

From Terese, a stellar teacher friend of mine, I learned the practice of SQRT- Super Quiet Reading Time. It’s not a tough concept (and maybe one for focus on another day)- but a practice that, if truly practiced, might be the most powerful teaching tool you implement.

I extended that to SQWT- Super Quiet Writing Time. Both SQRT (pronounced “squirt”) and SQWT (pronounced “squit”) take practice and teaching, earning our way from 2 minutes to 5 minutes to 10 to 20, even to half an hour. It was sacred time, time to be cherished- time for EVERYONE (including me, the teacher) to read or write with only the music as distraction. It was an privilege and a joy to get to 30 minutes of SQRT or SQWT- and disappointing but necessary when we couldn’t hold the space for more than a few minutes.

Some people can write forever if given time and space. Many cannot. I armed the students with two things: a thesaurus and a list of questions.

If they are really stumped, my students could look up a word in the thesaurus. (I often use “good” as a sample exploration.) Then, they can list words that their first word leads them to. Then add more words from the next words- and maybe they would find a theme. SQWT was not drawing time- though sometimes they could earn a 5 minute bonus of drawing connected to their writing or extended writing.

Of course good questions do not always need to be written about- but it’s a good practice to teach. And kids LOVE to share their thoughts. (Sometimes, we would make time to share and respond to people’s SQWT time contributions.)

Other SQWT inspiration:

Ask. Listen as if you do not know the answer.

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