Make a Choice This Weekend
Ask the Right Question or Watch ‘Wadjda’

A few weeks ago I met Dan Rothstein and he told me about a book he wrote with Luz Santana, “Make Just One Change.”   It’s about how to teach students to ask their own questions. They lay out a persuasive argument as to why teaching kids to ask good questions is important (in a nutshell, it promotes divergent thinking, convergent thinking and metacognition).

This weekend I tried out their Question Formulation Technique (QFT) on my kids. My daughter and I had just watched a movie called “Wadjda.” It is the story of a 10-year old girl growing up in a very conservative society in Saudi Arabia and chronicles her quest to buy a bike. The QFT starts by making a statement. Then children develop questions. You make the questions better, and then you prioritize the questions and finally produce something based on the questions. The key for you (the teacher) is to not ask the questions, but to let the children formulate the questions and reflect on them.

Caveat: There is an art to actually making the statement that is the basis of the questions and how to do the QFT. You should read the book to find out. I was only testing out the process to see what would happen with an n size of two. I let my 4-year-old off the hook.

My statement to the 10-year old was: Wadjda’s mom was happy.

Her questions were:

  • Why was she happy?
  • Did Wadjda make her happy?
  • What was she happy about?
  • How did she change her mood?
  • Why did she buy a bike for Wadjda?*
  • Why did Wadjda’s mom not want to be different?*
  • Why was she smoking?
  • Did she change from the beginning to the end of the movie?*
  • How did she change?

Not bad for 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning! It is harder than you think to actually NOT pose a question and to just listen to her questions. We proceeded to prioritize the questions as “open” or “closed” (per Dan’s and Luz’s guidance in the book), and then I watched as she reflected on which questions were the most important (she marked them with an asterisk above). I immediately saw how this technique could work in the classroom and was actually dying to see an expert teacher do this. Maybe the Teaching Channel could do a video?! I need to introduce Dan and Luz to Pat Wasley.

I told my daughter if I were her teacher, I’d make her write a paper about the central argument in the movie. But since it was now 7:15 a.m. on Saturday morning and I’m not her teacher, I decided to let her go back to sleep! I went upstairs to wake up my son who was reading Bible stories with me last night, gave him a morning kiss and said, “Mommy wants to play a game. I’m going to make a statement and you ask me five questions about it. Jesus walked on water.” You can imagine his reaction.


One thought on “Make a Choice This Weekend
Ask the Right Question or Watch ‘Wadjda’

  1. Eli

    My wife and I saw Wadjda went it was at the Harvard Exit Theater here in Seattle. We enjoyed it. It’s been a while since I saw it, but when I finished watching I definitely don’t think I would have chosen the statement “Wadjda’s mom was happy.” I’m curious why you decided to go with that?

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