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Questions and Problem Solving in Learning

Teachers ask students many questions, and teachers also ask many questions of themselves. Teachers use skill in asking questions as an initial and powerful step in problem solving. The value of asking a question is that it clarifies the problem that you want to solve, it primes your mind to receive the answer, and asking the question gives you a personal stake in obtaining the answer. Asking the question, therefore, helps to solve the motivational problem because once you have asked a question, the problem becomes your problem. As a further display of the power of interrogation, often simply asking a question is enough to supply the answer or, alternately, to suggest a simple approach by research or experimentation to find a desired answer. Developing skill at designing and asking questions makes people more curious, more analytical, and more highly motivated to do intellectual work. For these reasons, teaching interrogative skills is an insidious, seductive and powerful approach to develop problem solving skills.

One problem with our educational system is that we do not receive formal instruction or encouragement in designing and asking questions. I believe about one third of our school curriculum from the earliest grades should be devoted to this necessary life skill. Asking questions is essential for interpersonal relationships, business, crime detection, interviewing, mathematics, teaching, and science. Where information is concerned, literally, if you don't ask, you don't get! In our educational system, very clever people learn to ask questions by teaching themselves this skill. However, this is a skill that can be developed more generally and one that can be taught.