‘Thinking in Questions’ Brings a Spirit of Equity to Community-School Relationships

What can our school do about unexcused absences? How do I know if my child is making enough progress? How much should teachers have to work outside the school day? Putting questions at the heart of curriculum, instruction, and school governance opens up the change process to fresh design solutions.

The Right Question Project has worked for the past decade to empower people in school communities to formulate their own questions, regardless of their own educational or literacy background. Practice in this skill makes people better able to think and act for themselves, asserts director Dan Rothstein, so they can hold themselves and their institutions more accountable. Whether that happens in parent-teacher conferences or in setting whole-school priorities, it can breathe a new spirit of equity into the relationships between schools and communities.

Whatever the issue at hand, Right Question’s question-formulation technique follows a simple four-step procedure. First, participants brainstorm and record their questions without stopping to analyze, explain, or answer them. Then they prioritize by selecting the three most important questions, and choosing one of those three to focus on. (At this point they discuss the differences between yes-or-no “close-ended” questions and “open-ended” questions whose answers require more explanation. They explore the advantages and disadvantages of each type, and practice turning yes-or-no questions into open-ended ones.)

The third step asks participants to branch off their chosen question to brainstorm more questions about it–getting closer to an answer and discovering new questions as well. Finally, they prioritize again, choosing three questions from their latest list and beginning to think strategically about a plan of action.

Taking a group of up to fifteen people through the process can be slow and painful, Rothstein says, but it pays off. “The simple step of coming up with their own questions often leads people to feel much more confident acting on behalf of themselves and their families,” he notes. “Given the opportunity, they learn from each other. And when they decide on their own course of action, they are more likely to follow through.”

For more information, write the Right Question Project, 2464 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140; telephone     617-492-1900    617-492-1900        617-492-1900   617-492-1900 ; or visit www.rightquestion.org.