What is the problem?

What exactly is the question asking? That’s the first thing to find out whenever you confront a problem in school. Yet we don’t think to much about how questions are to be interpreted. After all, it is the teachers’ fault when they don’t ask the right questions or when they don’t ask questions “correctly”.

But a student is never really rewarded or recognised for asking good questions. Or finding more than one way of interpreting the questions. Indeed, students who interpret examination questions differently and then answer them in a manner different from what the teachers had expected are typically marked down. Then there are those who respond to teachers’ questions with more questions and that is generally not welcomed. The ones that stump teachers generally seem to undermine their authority, so it became the domain of class clowns and naughty kids.

Interrogating a problem is an important and useful skill. In fact, it is often the starting point of problem-solving. That is why projects are so important and too often, we overemphasize the need to come up with a solution and to do something or to produce something rather than to help students think through problems and be able to articulate them.

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