Think for a moment about the “best” question someone has ever asked you. As soon as it was posed..
Achieving transformational learning begins the way all other learning does—with a question.
When I'm working with schools around the globe, I'm always interested in the types of questions we ask our students in order to make their learning relevant, meaningful, and enjoyable. I'll also be the first one to admit that teachers are acing this everywhere, and it fills me with joy and hope for our students' futures.
Sometimes, though, this inquiry is given back to me, which is completely fair and understandable. Admittedly, it took a long time for me to determine what questions are best for achieving transformational learning, and be assured that list is long and diverse.
But when you begin this journey, the idea is to ensure the learning is student-centered. That means encouraging critical thinking, introspection, and personal interest in the questions we ask our learners. It's easy enough to do, and I've managed to narrow it down to 3 simple things to ask for making learning transformational.
3 Learner Questions for Achieving Transformational Learning
These questions are the ones I ask our learners most often myself, and I've seen them used by teachers as the provocations for achieving transformational learning all over the world. I hope they can work the same way for your own learners.
1. What are you curious about?
Curiosity is one of those important personal qualities that no exam can measure. As human beings we are inherently curious, and because of this we have accomplished a history full of wonders. So ask your learners what they themselves are curious about.
What subjects and topics are interesting and exciting to them? What do they want to know, discover, or learn about? Asking these things is empowering to our learners. It indicates to them that their ideas and opinions have value, and that we as teachers cherish their potential for independent thought and action.
Curiosity is one of those important personal qualities that no exam can measure.
This question ties in directly to the shift of practice we call "connection through context and relevance." Ultimately those two ideas are essential to achieving transformational learning. Without them, there is no learning because there is no interest in learning. That's why this question is so important to ask, because curious learners are eager learners.
As such, they will devote their time and energy to the discovery and understanding of topics that motivate them to learn.
2. What are you concerned about?
Everybody has something that keeps them awake at night, and our learners are no different. Aside from what concerns them personally, it is surprising to realize just how deeply connected kids are to the issues of the world, and their awareness of the fact that many of these issues are deeply serious.
We performed this inquiry in October 2016 with primary students Melrose High School in Canberra. We asked them what they believed was the most urgent problem in the world. The list they came up with included everything from domestic abuse and animal cruelty to pollution, war, racism and beyond.
Everybody has something that keeps them awake at night, and our learners are no different.
Keep in mind that this list was generated by Year 4 students, so it's easy to see what results you can achieve by simply asking students of any level to ponder this all-important question.
The fact is today's connected learners are closer than ever to what's going on around them locally and globally. Connectivity has encouraged higher awareness and deeper levels of thinking in regards to the state of things in our world. We'll never know what they're worried about, or how much they want to help, until we ask them.
3. What do you want to create in the world?
This question is a natural progression from asking kids what they're most concerned about, and it is the key to achieving transformational learning through encouraging creative application. We've established what's weighing on our learners' minds—now it's time to ask them what they want to do about it.
How we hand responsibility for learning over to our students simply involves giving them space to do what they do naturally. Our learners' inherent ability and desire to create and collaborate need only be fueled by the right processes for critical thinking and problem solving.
Achieving transformational learning anytime and anywhere is simply about asking students the right questions.
With teachers as the facilitators of learning, students are free to use imagination and passion to develop the solutions that the problems of the world truly need.
Achieving transformational learning anytime and anywhere is simply about asking students the right questions. In my travels, I've found these three work extremely well for doing just that.
They are the kind of simple yet powerful inquiries that can take your learners on the journeys that build the kinds of skills that make a difference in the world, now and always.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 14, 2018, updated September 23, 2021