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BFTP: What is an authentic question?

Never ask a question to which you think you know the answer - Junior Great Books training

Why do so many school "research" assignments fall flat? One big reason is because they don't ask students to answer an authentic question - only to supply a "right" answer.

A genuinely authentic question may have mutliple right answers, no right answers, or no answers at all, only the conclusion that consists of more questions. Nobody knows at the outset of the assignment what the answer will be. The task should be a reseach assignment, not a fishing trip for pre-determined outcomes.

During my training to lead Junior Great Books discussions many moons ago, I encountered the statement made above. The exemplar authentic question was, "Why despite having a bag of gold coins and a goose that lays golden eggs, does Jack make a third trip up the beanstalk?" I'd still like to know the answer to this question.

Teachers and librarians, celebrate ambiguity in your teaching - there are very few "right" answers. And don't a few surprises in kids work make teaching a whole lot more interesting?

Related writings: 
   Embracing Ambiguity
   Designing Research Assignements Students (and Teachers) Love
    Teaching Outside the Lines

Somewhat off topic, but I liked this quote:

From the moment kids are asked to subdue their passions in order to get straight As to the time they arrive at a company and are asked to work 70 hours a week climbing the ladder, people have an incentive to suppress their passions and prune their souls. David Brooks

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Original post October 5, 2010

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