The Learning Renaissance

Questions, Questions, Questions… Why Schools Are Killing Creativity

This is a very reflective piece from Wendy Berliner, brought to my attention by Charlotte Davies, which recalls some research from 2007 about children asking questions.

The intensity with which children ask questions drops off once they reach school as the administrative and discipline demands of the classroom tends to restrict active questioning, except in response to teacher prompts. I’m minded of Sir Ken Robinson outlining how young children operate like geniuses when problem-solving before school because there are no limits to their imagination and ability to come up with creative solutions because they don’t constrain themselves with parameters.

creativity in schools

Matt Caldwell, head of Ilminster Avenue nursery school, Bristol, says the youngest children’s creativity and conversational skills have increased since cardboard boxes and cans replaced toys. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

This makes quite sombre reading and is yet more evidence that the status quo in school-based learning is untenable, both from the point of view of the return on expenditure in state education and in the limiting of the educational potential of the student.

‘In 2007, researchers logging questions asked by children aged 14 months to five years found they asked an average of 107 questions an hour. One child was asking three questions a minute at his peak.

Susan Engel, The Hungry Mind, finds questioning drops like a stone once children start school. When her team logged classroom questions, she found the youngest children in an American suburban elementary school asked between two and five questions in a two-hour period. Even worse, as they got older the children gave up asking altogether. There were two-hour stretches in fifth grade (year 6) where 10 and 11-year-olds failed to ask their teacher a single question.

In one lesson she observed, a ninth grader raised her hand to ask if there were any places in the world where no one made art. The teacher stopped her mid-sentence with, “Zoe, no questions now, please; it’s time for learning.”

If we are not talking to children we are not in-tune with their needs or developing a huge number of skills no wonder we have a mental health crisis.’

The prompt for her comments was this Guardian article by Wendy Berliner:

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn | The Guardian


About educationalist04

I'm convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans. The solution is learning - creating independent and autonomous learners who can problem solve, innovate and create a better more equitable and sustainable world. My books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success together with this blog, explore how better learning outcomes for all can be achieved.

2 comments on “Questions, Questions, Questions… Why Schools Are Killing Creativity

  1. AcEd
    March 9, 2020

    First, we must encourage and support curiosity/creativity in teachers if we wish to see it in our pupils. A couple of quotes from R S Peters (1976)
    “people usually learn to think by being with others who have learnt to think”
    “most good teachers use their voice to excite and to explain, not simply to instruct, command, or drill.”
    “The child’s interest must be awakened and he must be put into situations where the task rather than the man exerts discipline. He will thus acquire habits and skills that are useful to him, and by co-operating with others in common tasks, will develop respect for others and for himself.”
    “criticism and speculation are the lifeblood… .”

    • Nina
      March 9, 2020

      Yes! Helping teachers to continuously keep on constructing their own knowledge results in classrooms where authentic dialogue is used in collaborative meaning-making!

      Alas, often dialogue is misunderstood to be any kind of classroom discussion – this is not true! Dialogue exists to support understanding. It is not about winning an argument, or guiding students to fidn a predetermined solution for a problem.
      Right and wrong, true and false, and other dichotomies belong to objectivist pedagogies, thus being destructive for collaborative meaning-making.

      Children are curious by nature and interested in sooo many things. We just need to support the curiosity and guide it towards the topic, and then watch the magic happen.


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