In his book, A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger explores the importance of inquiry to guide innovation. Just as important as questioning, Berger expresses the need to take action following inquiry. “Basic formula: Q (questioning) + A (action) = I (innovation). On the other hand, Q – A = P (philosophy)” (Berger, p.31). Berger’s book takes a deep dive into the details of how we can foster the formula of innovation. One of the keys to this goal is facilitating within an environment that is not only accepting of questions from all individuals, but urging for questions to come regularly from all participants. As part of this challenge, Berger shows how quickly our desire to question spikes at a young age and drops drastically. So why does this occur? Why do preschoolers ask fewer and fewer questions as they grow toward adulthood?
An area I will explore while looking to answer part of this question is related to a “comfort” factor as theorized by a Harvard child psychologist and author Paul Harris. Berger brings to light Harris’ “comfort” factor which suggests, “at home with a parent, children are more willing to share their questions than they are at preschool” (Berger, p.43). As a parent of a nearly three-year-old boy and a four-and-a-half-year-old girl, I can completely relate to both sides of the “comfort” factor. My wife and I feel our main job is to unconditionally love our children and make sure they are safe. We have freedom in our lesson plan, because with our children there is no set lesson plan. The conditions in our house are ripe for inquiry. Of course the level of comfort given to ask questions varies day-to-day, but we try our best to expand our patience and gladly accept a constant bombardment of questions. One the other hand, teachers face all sorts of challenges that make this type of truly student-centered learning nearly impossible. However, through all the challenges, such as standardized tests, high student-to-teacher ratios and limited resources, it is crucial to foster inquiry. Berger explains, “if a student thinks of a question him/herself, it is likely to be of more interest than someone else’s question” (Berger, p.56). As we show children that they are in a safe place to question, the questions will just keep coming.
I work very hard to extend this “comfort” factor to my workplace environment. The strategies can work across the ages to encourage inquiry. Individuals are much more likely to ask questions if they feel that they are in a safe place, physically and mentally. For example, in the technology field I feel that it is my responsibility to always gauge whether the language I am using is being understood. By constantly verifying, I feel I am creating openings within the discussion where questions are noticeably welcome. I also gladly speak about my weaknesses within the vast technology field and explain how no one can know it all. As Berger notes, “good questioners tend to be aware of, and quite comfortable with, their own ignorance” (Berger, p.16). I believe showing this vulnerability to students, co-workers and others is one of the best ways to break down walls and create a safe comfortable space for open discussion and inquiry.
Berger, Warren. A More Beautiful Question. Bloomsbury, 2014.
Catch21productions. Student question time. 2006. PNG. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/catch21/237011169