Sunday, October 5, 2014

Inspiring Others to Inspire Themselves... the Art of the Question


  • ASK
  • EMBRACE THE SILENCE THAT FOLLOWS (the sound of thinking!)
  • EMBRACE THIS PROCESS (the byproducts will astound you!)

I used to use many more periods and !'s than the empowering ?  I finally started using more questions when I was re-introduced to my mentor Dr. Carroll Rinehart.  I asked questions and I THOUGHT I was listening.  I was listening... technically.... but I was uncomfortable with the silence that followed the question.  I thought that was a sign of confusion.  In fact, it was the sound of thinking.  When I read to children I ask many questions.  When I meet with colleagues, I ask lots of questions.  When I see my kids, I ask lots of questions... and the result has been truly wonderful.

At the early childhood program, Child-Parent Centers, Inc. in Southern Arizona, they ask lots of questions as well.  Whether we use the word inquiry, prompt or any other word, it is the quality and intent of the question which is critical.  Above you see a lovely "Snow Angel" made from wire that a preschool child made.  As beautiful as this product is, what is even more stunning is the process of learning that led to this product being made.... and it all started with a question.  Perhaps the question was "What is wire?"  "What can you do with wire?" After that question was asked, their was silence, followed by more questions.  It took patience and an engaged teacher who was willing to have an authentic moment or two with a young child.  I wonder if we realize how important not only questions are, but the quality of those questions?

What was the question that led to 7 leafs being posted on a board, with the written number "Seven" and the number "7" drawn as well?  What additional questions can you think of asking?

Above is a piece of artwork made with flower parts...amazing, right?  What was the question that led to this creation?  Ask yourself, what questions have I asked that led to the learners being so engaged, they couldn't wait for what was about to happen or what they were about to do?  When the learned is that engaged, there was a great question that led to it.

I wonder if the question that preceded the above painting was, "What is your favorite food?"  I wonder if the answer was "Pizza" or "Chili's?"  Or perhaps the first question was "What is your favorite shape?"  Either way, the question, followed by silence, authentic conversation and more questions leads to all manner of creations, along with a beautiful balance of critical thinking and creativity.

A Rocket ship made out of wire! What question was asked?  I bet it initially had little to do with a Rocket.  Our minds are super computers and yet, so often, we ask only linear questions of young learners...what?!?!  We need to remind ourselves of the simple, yet empowering, act of asking not only questions, but OPEN ENDED questions of our young learners.  The results remind us of how much the learner brings to the table of education.

Ah... the SUN!!!  We know all about that in Arizona, my home state, and the home of the national non profit organization, the F.A.M.E. Foundation.  Through the Context Method® we look for contextual ways of learning with young children all the way through high school students.  Above is the sun.  The question might have been "What do trees need to grow? or "What is summer like" or "How do you feel when you are at school?"  As guides of young children, we need to become masters of the question.

We also need to ask ourselves questions!  Above are two of my colleagues, the incredible bass vocalist and Artist, Juan Aguirre (left), and Rick Wamer, Program Director of Arts Integration Solutions and world famous Mime and Actor.  I know what question was asked because... I ASKED  The question was, "Can you show me everything you know about lines and curves?"  Their willingness to live and learn like a child, makes them both excellent when it comes to connecting with children...Bravo!

The creation of the doll above may have not happened without questions being asked first.

One of my favorite questions to ask is "What do you see?" Above you see the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus in China.  When we are encourage to see for ourselves, we can see both differences and similarities.  A city is city in many ways, but culturally there are also differences.

Here's one for you, the reader of this blog... look at the image above and write down everything you see.  Now that you've done that, look at the image and and write down some more things you didn't notice the first time.  Inspiration is in part related to looking for and expressing depth of meaning along with depth of being.  Sometimes we have to look more than once... sometimes we have to ask more than once.

In the above photo, we would not have witnessed the artistic process unfold in front of our very eyes if I had not asked this preschooler the question, "Can you draw some quarter notes?"  When we ask questions openly, without one particular answer in mind, we open the door to creativity.

Many days when I visit an early childhood classroom, I bring a small suitcase on wheels and inside are all sorts of things from puppets to books and more.  If I hadn't asked the question, "What do you think is in my suitcase?" and continued to ask questions as I slowly took out puppet Eddie the Elephant foot by foot, the above scenario might never had taken place; a child inspired to create an elephant out of clay!

Those children aren't sleeping... they are creating geometric shapes with their bodies.  This was preceded by all manner of questions, including:
  • "Can you make a line with your body?"
  • "How many ways can you make a line with your body?"
  • "What else can you make with your body?"

We have to model what we teach in our own lives.  To the left is Dr. Carroll Rinehart, to the right Corey Ferrugia of MyTown Music, and myself in the middle and we are asking each other questions. Some of our answers were even questions.  This simple act has transformed my life and I hope you use it to transform yours.  When I ask my teenage kids questions, I receive responses.  It's quite different when I make

Asking a child "Who are you?" or "What do you look like?"  can lead to self-portraits and more!

Questions can lead to creation of objects and turning dreams into reality. 

Questions help us find and/or create paths to knowledge.  Questions help the learner create their own path to knowledge and the use of the knowledge.

"What can you make with a shadow?" is a simple question.  Simple questions can lead to complex understanding.

Another self-portrait... what is a question worth?  Certainly, more than any statement.  Think about it... how many questions do you ask and how many are open-ended.  I invite you to join me on November 4th on Twitter for a one hour intellectual jam on "Inspiring Learners".  My colleague Debbie Clement will post some questions and we can go back and forth on ideas.  Chat with you then!
Founder/Director of Education, F.A.M.E. Foundation
Co-Founder, Context Method®

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