I remember walking into my 5th grade classroom during January of my first year of teaching and getting bombarded with the usual questions from my kiddos. They were typical school questions for a first year teacher. I remember noticing that the kids actually knew the answers to most of them. I guess they were asking me just to be sure they were right. I also remember that my answers were typically one-worded responses, some spoken with an occasional pointed finger, "Yes....No....There!"
After one too many, I jokingly stated, "I'm not answering any more questions today!"
A few kids giggled and a few looked at me with a perplexed grin. They all knew I was probably up to no good! There was silence for about four seconds, then the questions continued, "Can I work on my project?"
I responded, "I don't know, can you?"
The next student, "What should I do next for my writing?"
My answer, "I don't know! What should you do next for your writing?"
Both kids already knew the answers. A few more interactions like this and the class took notice. For me, with each question and answer, things got more fun! I wondered if I could go all day in this manner!
"Come on, Mr. Shanks, you KNOW what I need to do next! Just tell me"
I said, "Hmmmm....I don't know....I wonder who could tell you?"
I continued answering questions this way and made the HUGE realization that I had trained my class to ask me a million questions a day! By answering them, I trained them to keep asking! I didn't want to answer a million questions per day! I really wanted a classroom where the kids knew how to find their answers without needing direct guidance from me. During the last several months of the year, I changed the dynamics of the classroom immensely by changing my responses to their questions. Throwing most of the questions back to them made our classroom a different place.
This process also unveiled the difference between the regular questions and the fun questions! Mixed in with the requests to go to the bathroom and how to solve #4, were questions like, "Can dogs really count?"
These were the questions that were more fun! At first, I turned those questions right back to the students as well. However, I learned that without some level of guidance, 5th graders didn't always know where to begin the search for answers to these questions. In today's world, most kids simply Google the question! Not so, in 1994!
I believe fun questions like these deserve to be honored and respected. These are the types of questions I want students to ask. Questions like these lead kids to explore and learn. More importantly, when questions like these are respected, kids learn that it is a good thing to ask questions that don't necessarily have easy answers!
When kids regularly ask the impossible, then strive to find an answer, we all win!