I don’t mean the questions that come from the children. I’m talking about questions teachers ask children. Of course, sometimes there is something to be said for having children think more deeply about their own ideas and discoveries, but all too often teachers are asking questions that they know the answers to… in other words, the question is a test. These types of questions can fall into the basic right/wrong category (“What color is this?” or “Is six less or more than eight?”) or sometimes they involve a guessing game on the part of the child to discern what answer the teacher is looking for (“Is this a good idea or a bad idea?” or “Is that a safe choice?”). Either way, the teacher is looking for a certain response. Adults almost never do this to each other. Why must we do it with children?
If you are really wanting to hear what a child is thinking, you can muse out loud your own thoughts on the subject, without putting a child on the spot. You can ask what they think, if you truly don’t know what they’ll say, and are genuinely curious about the answer. But let’s stop assuming that we are here to teach the children and start looking to the children to teach us a few things, about their inner lives and about the world we have forgotten, the magical world of childhood. Let’s have some intellectual humility, we don’t know everything! After all, too much information swamps the boat of wonder, and with the internet at out fingertips, we could all use more time to ponder and less time spent passively absorbing information we won’t remember anyway.
When you feel tempted to use your words to test or correct, ask yourself, “is it absolutely necessary that I teach something right now?” Or could this experience just be for this child to think about and understand without my input? Even if you overhear a child saying something that is incorrect factually, do you need to point it out? What if you weren’t there? We did not have adults hearing and commenting on our every word when we were kids. Do you like to be corrected in front of other people when you share things? When children want to be right or save face, you can either say nothing, or say, “We think different things about that,” with a smile.
When you gently refrain from telling and lecturing, and instead consider your time with the children to be more like a visit with friends you want to get to know better, that openness will be adopted by the children in their dealings with each other. As teachers we can model not needing to be right about everything. Isn’t that the kind of person you like being around?