Question Quotas

If we limit the number of questions students are allowed to ask, they quite literally have to figure things out for themselves.

Photo of Andrew Goodin
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[Bell rings]
"Ladies and gentlemen your assignment today is to figure out this [insert authentic curriculum aligned challenge (e.g. stoichiometry lab, historical picture, interpretation of text, piece of technology, etc.)] and solve it by the end of class today.  This assignment is part of our 'Curiosity Series' so you and your team will only be permitted to ask three questions during class today."
"Wait, we seriously only get three questions?"
"Yes.  You now have two left.  The idea here is that you can figure this out for yourself.  You have a wealth of resources including each other, the internet, and our classroom library.  I expect the solution to be on my desk by the end of class today."

As educators sometimes we have a tendency to break things down too much for students.  Our bite-sized daily learning objectives build to larger learning goals - but that can make it difficult for students to see the forest for the trees.  "How do I do this?"  "When will we use this?"

What if we intentionally made things complex for students and then limited the number of opportunities for them to rely upon us?  If we can build a culture of collaboration in our classes then students would be able to validate their own learning abilities.

I've attempted this in class a few times and noticed that setting a question quota causes students to craft their questions carefully and delay slightly before raising their hands to reconsider how they might figure something out for themselves.  The experience has to be carefully designed such that students are not giving up in frustration - but when the balance is right a question quota can enhance the quantity of thinking each student is doing.

Note:  This idea is inspired by Whole Class Inquiry by Joan Gallagher-Bolos and Dennis Smithenry.


How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

My hypothesis is that if we design experiences that permit students to feel success without external support from a teacher, they will learn to value the process of discovering knowledge.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • High School (9-12)

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Photo of Brett Brownell
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"Yes. You now have two left." That made me smile. Really interesting idea Andrew. Thanks for sharing!

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