The Question

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“Inquiry is a systematic investigation or study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea.”
 

 Good questions are at the heart of good inquiry. They should be higher-order, rich, worthy, essential and/or fertile. They are often open-ended (have no right or wrong answer) but are backed by subsidiary questions which are usually closed. Get the initial question right and the rest of the inquiry flows well.

Young children and those new to inquiry will need help in framing the initial question or problem. The ultimate aim is for them to be able to frame their own questions for inquiry but initially they will need teacher guidance to do this.

 Yoram Harpaz and Adam Lefstein in their 'Communities of Thinking' article advocate the use of fertile questions. These have the following characteristics:

  • Open - there are several different or competing answers.

  • Undermining - makes the learner question their basic assumptions.

  • Rich - Cannot be answered without careful and lengthy research. Usually able to be broken into subsidiary questions.

  • Connected - relevant to the learners.

  • Charged - has an ethical dimension

  • Practical - Is able to be researched given the available resources.

Not all questions for inquiry need to meet all these criteria. On the Galileo Education Network's website they talk about essential questions such as "What is light?" that are "poised at the boundary of the known and the unknown." They also use the term "worthy question" to describe the questions that form the basis of inquiry.

Jamie McKenzie in a recent article The (merely) Demanding Question discusses the difference between essential questions and demanding questions. He discusses how both share two traits - they require original thought and produce new understanding. Essential questions however, he believes, go a step further and meet the tests of significance, the "So what?" test.

On the Youthlearn site they list what they consider to be the characteristics of good questions:

  • They must be answerable

  • The answer cannot be a simple fact

  • The answer can't be already known

  • They must have some objective basis for an answer

  • The cannot be too personal

Resources

The Question is the Answer - Jamie McKenzie's article.

Creating Essential Questions - Pat Clifford and Sharon Friesen's article.

'Learning to Question, to Wonder to Learn' - Jamie McKenzie's book on questioning.

Socratic Questioning - Mark Treadwell's article.

 Art of Asking Good Questions - Youthlearn's site

 

 

“Inquiry is not so much seeking the right answer -- because often there is none - but rather seeking appropriate resolutions to questions and issues.”

 
www.thirteen.org/

"Inquiry should be motivated by questions whose purpose, meaning or relation to the real world are apparent to the child."

Karen Sheingold

"An essential question that arises from imaginative engagement is an important way to bring teacher, student and subject matter together in ways that enrich all three."

www.galileo.org/tips/

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Jan-Marie Kellow 2006
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Photos must only be used for educational purposes and must be attributed. Photos of children may only be used with my permission.