It almost goes without saying that we discover the unique personality traits of our children by watching and listening to them, but sometimes we forget this in the classroom – for any of a variety of reasons. Sometimes we’re just tired. Or pressed for time. Or so intent on getting our point across that we lose the connection with the kids and end up simply talking to them instead of talking with them. There’s a big difference. Talking with kids implies listening.
I often write about “the significant adult,” the person(s) who is able to “speak into” the child’s life, to affect the child’s values. A significant adult spends time with the child, plays (and works at chores) with the child, and listens when the child has something to say. I believe one of the teacher’s jobs is to guide the conversation toward the theme of the day by asking questions that engage children and get them to talk, to bat around their own ideas and thoughts about the theme.
Open-ended questions . . .
Questions in general allow you to see how well you’ve communicated your point. You can tell if kids are “getting it.” These questions tend to be closed, with answers that are yes or no, right or wrong. Closed questions = I have the answers and I want to see if you can answer correctly. While these have their place, open-ended questions are even more important. Open-ended questions = I want to know what you think about this; I want you to think it through; tell me why God might have said this or how this theme might playear out in real life.
It’s much easier to simply ask, “Who was out in the field watching sheep when Jesus was born?” The answer tells you whether the child has understood the facts of the story. But that’s a closed question. To engage in discussion and build relationship, ponder with the child. “How would you have felt if you had seen the angels? They said, ‘Peace on earth.’ What is peace?” Of course, depending on the age of the child, the discussion takes off from there, and you place yourself in the position of considering these open-ended questions along with the child. (To see examples of this, look at discussion sections in the activities of any age level of my curricula.)
Discovering valuable information . . .
Open-ended questions not only let kids think and express their ideas (some kids need to talk to think), but also allow you to hear who these kids are. You show goldnuggetinterest in their ideas, their feelings, their way of seeing things. Writer Tammy Cravit uses open-ended questions in interviews. She says, “You never know what valuable nuggets of information your sources will volunteer.”
It’s the same with teachers who ask open-ended questions. The teacher often ends up richer for having listened to the valuable things kids have to say. Not to mention getting to know and enjoy their unique personalities as you build togetherness, a common sense of wonder, and a valuable, significant relationship.