Answer? Or counter-question?

Let us say a student asks a question on a particular topic or subject or issue. Conventionally, the question is answered if the teacher who answers knows it. Facilitation is about enabling the learner think of the answer on its own – and this is the first step in the process.

Let’s say a child asks us, “Why are the ‘stop signals’ always Red?” What will we say or do? Will we give some kind of answer or explanation to the child’s question? Do we think it is important to answer the child’s questions? Do we normally try to answer all of our child’s questions?

A child can think too!

Now, let us think about this. The fact that the child has asked a question means the child has thought about the question. Only out of his thought process has he asked the question. Now, if we are going to answer the question, what will happen to the child’s thought process? The child stops thinking. Once the question is answered, the curiosity is over, the bucket is filled, and the journey is over.

And who did all the thinking – well, we did, and not the child. And to whom will the child run the next time he has a question – well, us! While in this process, the child will definitely get his fill of knowledge, but, he will hardly get an opportunity to think.

Instead, what if we were to turn to the seeker and ask in return, “What do you think?” What if we were in no hurry to give the seeker all the knowledge and wisdom that we have? What if we were to let the learner discover learning and wisdom on his own? What if we were to let (and encourage in the process) the learner to think?

Thinking is learning

The concept is so simple that most of us are not even aware of it – if we want the child to become a consummate and adept thinker, and then just let the child think! In our enthusiasm to teach children, we forget that what children learn on their own (through their own thinking) is the only real learning.

Now, let us carry the signal light example further. Upon being asked “what do we think”, let us say the child answers, “I think it is because the policeman’s favourite colour is red!” Now, what will we do? If we are in a hurry to correct the child, which is what most of us do, then again we are stopping the thinking process.

Even if the child is thinking incorrectly, the important aspect is that he is thinking! And that is what matters. Sooner of later, he will figure out the right answer – but it is the journey of finding out, that really makes us explore, learn and become thinkers. Thomas Alva Edison is reported to have said, “I have learned more through failures than by my successes.”

In fact, when we are too stuck with the right answer, we barely explore and think widely, thereby limiting our learning. It is similar to just being focused on reaching somewhere – we may miss out on the scenery along the way.

Explore! Enquire!!

So, the key word in developing a thinking mind is ‘Explore’. The approach is not to answer the question, nor to correct the child, but to ask exploratory questions – may be on the following lines:

What all is painted red on the road?

Amongst all colours which ones are most visible?
What should be the quality of the colours used in traffic signals?
If traffic signals on the road are red, what else should be painted red?
If not red, which colour would you like the stop signal to be? What would be the advantages, disadvantages?

The mind works like a muscle – the more we think, the more it grows and develops. So let us give children as many opportunities to experience, experiment and explore.

Their agreeing to our thinking is not important. Their having a perspective is more important.

Obviously, this does not mean that we should never answer any questions. For example, questions related to the safety of the child need to be answered. But we can explore the possibility of converting most of the questions into thinking and learning opportunities.

This is all we need to do!
Ask, “What do you think?”

Then ask, “What else…..?” or “How else….?” and “Where else….” etc.

Ignite the keenness in learning. “Shraddhavaan Labhate Gyanam.” If you are keen, you will gain the knowledge.

​All teachers should learn to facilitate and become facilitators. This brings everyone to a learner’s status.​



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