Monday, September 17, 2012

Facilitate … with inquiry as illustrated by a Grade 8 Class

My son is a Social and History teacher working with Grades 8 to 12.  One of his colleagues blogged about a story he shared with her about a Grade 8 Social class.  This story and blog are wonderful examples of one of my fundamental facilitation principles; ask questions, don’t tell.

The blog is at:

The blogger, Brooke Moore, says that:
• Inquiry means to ask questions and investigate those questions.
• Learning happens when students ask questions that they care about answering.
• Engagement means thinking or connecting to the learning… questioning is active and requires thinking.

The story that Brooke shared about my son’s Grade 8 class was:

All of this good stuff happened in Chris’ Social Studies 8 class today. When Chris stood up in front of his fresh-faced grade 8s he was all ready to tell them the definition of civilization - but then he didn’t. On an impulse, Chris pushed aside his carefully planned lesson and, instead of a definition wrote, “What is a civilization?” on the board.

“I just suddenly decided what I wanted the year to be about and telling them the answer would have been boring,” he told me. By the end of class the learners had revised and rethought their words until they had composed the following definitions. “We’ll use these throughout the year – revisiting them as their understanding develops.”

This excellent example of asking rather than telling illustrates how individuals learn and retain learning.  I am sure that the Grade 8 students will remember and understand what civilization is because they developed their own answers.  When facilitating, I ask open-ended questions as much as possible.  Participants learn and understand so much more because they think about the answers, discuss them with others, generate options, and reach decisions – themselves.  They are not told the answers.

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.
Peter Drucker, Management Consultant
I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.
Lou Holtz, Coach

Many facilitation approaches use questions as a foundational basis. Here are a few resources.  The Word CafĂ©, The Art of Hosting Conversations, and Appreciative Inquiry

My congratulations to my son and his colleague for using questions to encourage learning. 

My facilitation blog questions are:  How do you use inquiry in facilitation? How do you use questions effectively?