What questions should your students ask?

(Blog post written by Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy in Japan)

It’s 9:00 p.m. on a Friday night. Your student JuShin is talking on the phone with Melody, her friend since 2nd grade. JuShin has noticed changes in Melody’s behavior, like change in friends and less interest in school. Melody wants to know if JuShin wants to go “hang out with her friends around town” and get back “late.” What questions should JuShin ask Melody?

It’s 5 years from now. Calvin, your former student, is sitting with 4 college classmates in a coffee shop, talking about social issues. Statements are made:

  • “We should help the poor.”
  • “We need to be more tolerant.”
  • “It’s the parents’ responsibility.”

What questions should Calvin ask his classmates?

It’s 10 years from now. Tomoko, your former student, is reading an editorial on taxes in which the author urges readers to support Proposal 23. The proposal “reduces taxes for wealthy and increases taxes for the middle class.” What questions should Tomoko ask as she reads the editorial?

What questions should JuShin, Calvin and Tomoko to ask? How about…?

  • What do you mean by…?
  • How do you know?
  • How does the Bible help?
  • How can I respond?

Why these 4 questions? Because they help. Let me explain how.

1.What do you mean by…? Ever been in a conversation where someone thought you meant something and you didn’t? Or you thought someone meant something and she didn’t? I have. I didn’t like it. I don’t think anyone else does either.

By asking “What do you mean by…?” your students invite the other party to clarify what she means when she uses terms like hang out, late, poor, tolerant, wealthy, and middle class. As a result, your students will have a deeper understanding of the idea, value, situation, or perspective being presented.

2. How do you know? In other words, cite your sources. Explain the basis of your claims. Tell me where you’re coming from. If the issue is hanging out, how important is it to know that the invitation really comes from Melody’s mom or from her new friends? If the issue is poverty, how important is it to know that the information comes from The Economist or the school newspaper? If the proposal addresses changing the tax structure, how important is it to know which political party is pushing for the proposal? If the topic is Jesus, how important is it to know that the information comes from the novel The Da Vinci Code and not the Bible?

3. How does the Bible help? In other words, let’s see what the Bible says. After all, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, the text of the world’s largest religion, and most significantly, the Word of the living God.

4. How can I respond? Once your students understand the idea or situation, the basis of the idea or situation, and what the Bible says, they can then determine how to respond. And there may be more than one biblical response.

If your students ask these 4 questions, how will it help them understand and use a biblical perspective?

1. When your students ask these 4 questions, they’re working to develop biblical responses. (Keep in mind that your students are more likely to use the biblical responses they have developed than ones you have shared.)

2. When your students ask these 4 questions, they increase the likelihood that they’ll make a thoughtful response. Why? Because asking questions demonstrates an interest in others—and people are more open about what they’re thinking when someone is interested in them. Because asking questions decreases the likelihood of misunderstanding, misdiagnosis, and, consequently, misapplication of the Bible. Because asking questions increases the likelihood of identifying sources instead of symptoms, and of skillfully using pertinent biblical teaching.

3. When your students start by asking questions, rather than by giving answers, people will be more likely to talk with them. This means your students will be more likely to have opportunities to use a biblical perspective. More opportunities means more practice. And practice is a necessary step in effectively using a biblical perspective.

4. Asking questions gives your students natural opportunities to model a biblical perspective of behavior, including being concerned for others, being quick to listen, and showing humility when they don’t know the answer. Modeling is practice. Practice helps your students increase their proficiency in applying a biblical perspective.

Find out for yourself how the 4 questions work. Find out by using the 4 questions to respond to 1 or more of the following statements. Better yet, find out by having your students use the 4 questions to respond to one or more of the following statements:

  • We should love everyone.
  • You should obey the government and fight in the war.
  • This won’t hurt you.
  • Abortion isn’t murder.
  • Language is evolving.
  • Budgets are moral documents.

So, what’s the real question? It’s not “What questions should my students ask?” or “Should I teach my students to ask the 4 questions?” Rather, it’s “How will I help my students right now to routinely ask wise questions?” You might want to teach your students to use the 4 questions, or you might want to teach your students to use questions you develop.

Remember, success is your students asking wise questions to better understand and use a biblical perspective. Success is not you teaching your students to ask wise questions (or even you asking your students wise questions). But remember, if you teach your students to ask wise questions, you increase the likelihood that they’ll ask wise questions.

Bonus: Lead by asking. Ask questions to help your colleagues focus, think through problems, and reach their goals. For example:

  1. If your colleague wants to increase student understanding and application of a biblical perspective, ask: How can questions help? What questions do you want your students to ask? What questions do you want your students to respond to?
  2. If your curriculum committee is brainstorming ways to improve the curriculum, ask: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How can we get there?
  3. If your administration wants to achieve its mission, ask: What’s our mission? What’s our definition of mission achievement? What’s our current level of mission achievement? How can we close the gap between current and targeted levels of mission achievement?
  4. If your school is reviewing its philosophy of education, ask: What happens at a Christ-centered school? What is the role of biblical perspective in Christian education? How can we help students internalize a biblical perspective?

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical worldview, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

One response to “What questions should your students ask?

  1. Gloria Stronks

    This is great information! Thanks so much, Michael. I plan to present these ideas to our teachers at our conference for Christian teachers in India. Of course I will explain where I learned of it.

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