Could you imagine.  You are traveling west to seek a new life, new land, and promise for the future.  And then you run into the largest peaks you have ever seen in your life – larger mountains than found in your wildest dreams.  Would you do a 180 and say, “Well, looks like we came as far as we could go!”  Or would you press on?  Would you be overcome by the fear of failure, the fear of the unknown, or the fear that it might be worse on the other side?  Or would you press on?

In teaching, I have witnessed a profound difference between a first grade class and a tenth grade Chemistry class.  It comes in the form of a question by the teacher in front of the classroom.  The question is asked and the hands tell the story.  The first grade class has 25 hands go up (although the class only has 18 students) and the Chemistry class has 2 hands going up.  The first grade students are absolutely unafraid to fail, engaged in learning, just wanting to participate.  The tenth grade class is riddled with fear, partially asleep, just giving the 2 “smart” kids in the class their stage to answer every question posed by the instructor.

What happened between first and tenth grade?  Where did students learn to fear being wrong?  Where did students become disengaged in learning? 

I have found that it comes in the form of a question and comes down to a one’s overall goals in teaching.

My goals in teaching on a daily basis are as follows:

  1. To create students unafraid of failure
  2. To create problem solvers
  3. To create independent thinkers
  4. To create students that perform
  5. To create students that are engaged

In growing up in the household of an absolutely great teacher, my father helped both me and my sisters reach every one of these goals just as each student that came into his classroom.  But it came down to his questions and not the information he gave to us. 

Great questions raised by teachers do these things:

  • Questions that do not alienate students
  • Questions that engage students
  • Questions that get students unafraid to fail
  • Questions that flow with the current
  • Questions that foster thinking and problem solving

Over the next few weeks, I am attempting to give teachers some practical examples of these types of questions – both good and bad.  If you come across either good or bad, feel free to e-mail me or post them as comments as I will delve into what great questioning looks like in a classroom.

And great questioning, you will get your students (or children) to be unafraid to climb the Rocky Mountains when they come face to face with them.