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What We Want Students to Achieve

Good Questions are Empowering Authentic, Respectful and Invitational

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What Makes a Good Question?

Jim Knight, author of The Beautiful Questions, asks what makes a good question? Answer effective questions are

Empowering

Authentic

Respectful

Invitational

Empowering

Asking good questions empowers the one receiving the inquiry, not the one posing it. When Knight asks someone he coaches, for example, “How close was that class to how you wanted it to go, on a scale of 1 to 10?” Knight wants that teacher to offer their opinions, not speculate on what he thinks. Asking thoughtful questions indicates Knight values your perspective, and he is interested in learning more. They shed light on our partner’s remarks, rather than our own ideas.

Authentic

Real questions are ones for which the asker doesn’t already know the answer. These are the good questions. Knight gives an example of when he asks a genuine inquiry, “I don’t do so to persuade my partner to agree with my predetermined conclusion; rather, I ask it out of genuine curiosity about their response.” Knight believes asking questions where “no” is an acceptable response is one easy way to make your queries seem more genuine. You probably are not genuinely seeking someone else’s ideas, feelings, or opinions when you ask a question like that. If you’ll say, “Don’t you think the students would be more engaged if you asked more open-ended questions?” Actually, it’s not a question. I’m going to give you some advice and then end it with a question mark.

Respectful

Asking thoughtful inquiries demonstrates our respect for other people. Michael Bungay Stanier, a coaching expert, proposes one of Knight’s favorite questions to ask: “I imagine you’ve thought a lot about this.” How have you handled similar situations in the past?” Asking this question shows that we are aware of our conversation partner’s valuable ideas and views, and that we are interested in hearing more. A question that conveys disdain or criticism, such as “Why didn’t you give the students more instruction before you had them do the group work?” is the reverse of a polite inquiry. Contrary to rude inquiries, which sow mistrust or division, polite questions foster connections.

Invitational

Sometimes these are termed probing inquiries, but Knight prefers the term invited questions. Researcher Irving Seidman states that when he hears the word “probe,” “I always think of a sharp instrument pressing on soft flesh.” Knight agrees with him. Additionally, the word suggests the subject is being treated like an object by the authoritative interviewer (p. 86).1. Knight likes invitational better.

“What leads you to believe ___?”, “What are some small steps you could take to move closer to your goal?”, and “What will it feel like when your students hit their goal?” are examples of invitational questions that elicit deeper thinking from participants.

Conclusion

Knight believes good questions are real manifestations of your curiosity and caring. Asking insightful questions can spark intellectual fireworks, which leads both the asker and their conversation partner to learn more. Knight asks, what can you do to improve your capacity to ask more empowered, genuine, kind, and inviting questions? Knight would argue that excellent questions lead to wonderful interactions.

You should record your favorite queries. Knight suggests to try this out: Variations of these questions should be asked in various contexts to observe how they affect your talks. Knight listed some of the coaches he knows or whose work he read favorite questions in the box that goes with it. Knight realizes that some questions will advance a conversation, so he tries to remember some of those questions for each interaction and use them to start a topic.

Here are some Knight’s favorite questions:

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This post is part of The Power of Learning Something New Series Questioning

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