Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions



Here is the scene:  One of my relations who just graduated from an highly-ranked university asked if she and her boyfriend could visit one evening while we were entertaining another couple for dinner.  Even though it was a spur of the moment request, we didn’t think twice and expressed, of course, we always have room for family during a family dinner.  While the guests were not family literally, they were long-time friends.

During dinner, it became apparent how these two recent college graduates were comfortable answering basic questions. This was a family dinner, not a job interview.  Yet, I noticed something strange about the dinner conversation when it took a turn about current events, one linking to a columnist in The Washington Post and another to The New York Times.  Both grads gave deer-in-the-headlight-looks and one murmured “must’ve missed it due to finals.”

Okay.  We go on vacations, immerse ourselves in no-distraction modes for long-term projects, barely checking on anything but breakthrough news. Yet the grads didn’t ask any questions. They didn’t seem curious.Little did they realize that our guests, while dressed in khakis and jeans, talking casually about politics, travel and ideas were well-connected philanthropists.

I later felt bad that I didn’t give these grads the heads-up that this was a couple that could possibly provide them with an introduction or two from the corporate and non-profit worlds but I honestly wasn’t thinking that way at the time.

Now, here were college grads looking for jobs,
who could have conveyed
MORE about WHO they were
by showing curiosity and asking engaging questions
in a social situation
than by reciting some resume paragraph
to a random interviewer
in an interview.

There were two lessons that were apparent here for young people.  The first is how opportunities may be all around us and to never discount casual social networking.

The second is the importance of asking authentic questions, being curious and of course, listening.  One recent Saturday morning I started reading the book, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions,” and didn’t stop until I finished it in its entirety because it was that good.



Two key excerpts:

The National Research Council report How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School recognized metacognition as a key factor in learning, and one that systematically and deliberately developed in all students.   The committee members highlighted that particularly important role that metacognition plays in the transfer of learning.

“Limited meta-cognitive abilities
can result in inadequate grasp of contentinefficient use of time and attention,overconfidence in one’s knowledge, and few attempts to learn from new or contradictory information.”

One last thought about the dinner.  Do you think the grads lost an opportunity due to the  lack of experience asking questions or was it the lack of experience asking questions to adults not in their familiar “circle”?

What do you think?

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