Questioning and the Draft New Zealand Curriculum



Questioning is a central core skill that is explicitly or implicitly woven through all of this draft curriculum. The thread starts on Page 7 where it states “these documents will set the direction for learning for all students while at school and will ensure that when they leave, they are equipped for life-long learning and for living in a world where continual change is the norm". It starts here because the main goal of the curriculum is empowering students for 'life long learning" and questioning is at the heart of learning. It is questioning that manifests curiosity, it is questioning that brings life to the thirst for knowledge and understanding, and it is questioning that gives direction as learners try to make meaning for themselves.
One of the Principals on which this curriculum is based is that of "Learning to Learn" where ( Page 9 ) "All students experience a curriculum that enables them to become active, confident, creative, and innovative learners and thinkers". Questioning is the parent of creativity and innovation, for without questioning there is nothing to drive and fuel these two human talents
The New Zealand Curriculum also identifies five key competencies (P 11-12). Each competency is a complex combination of understandings, attitudes and skills and when the competencies are looked at in detail, especially considering the subsidiary skills that compose the competency it is apparent that most of the competencies contain the skill of questioning as a major aspect:
Managing Self: Includes students having "strategies for meeting challenges make their own, well-informed choices". To make informed choices requires a range of skills amongst which questioning plays a major role.
Relating to Others: Questioning is a central component of "interacting effectively with a diverse range of people" and being "open to new learning"
Participating and Contributing: When we work "to make connections to others" and strive to "participate and contribute actively in new roles" questioning is going to be one of the major skills we will be utilising.
Thinking: De Bono states that 'questioning is the engine-house of thinking' and as we examine this competency it becomes obvious that questioning will play a major role as students "make sense of and question information", develop "understanding", "making decisions", develop "intellectual curiosity", "reflect on their own learning", "draw on personal knowledge and intuitions", "ask questions", and "challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
Using Language, Symbols, and Texts: This competency covers the basics of communication including textual, graphical and mathematical literacies. Within it questioning again will play a major role as students make "meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed", "discover, express, and explore the relationships to be found in quantities, space, and data".
Beyond the Key Competencies the draft curriculum contains eight learning areas and it would be easy to argue that questioning is central to each one because each learning area contains the concept of developing understanding which requires the skill of questioning. Beyond this there are a number of learning areas that very explicitly contain questioning as a major aspect.
Social Sciences: This area has four strands that provide contexts for the central strand of 'Social Inquiry'. In Levels 1 to 8 the Social Inquiry strand contains the expectation that students will "ask questions" and 'examine societal issues, ideas and events'.
Science: On Page 20 the document states that the strand "Nature of Science is the over-arching, unifying strand". Examination of the achievement objectives shows that in levels one to five the ability to "ask questions" is explicitly incorporated. In levels six to eight questioning is implicitly incorporated through the statement "students will carry out investigations".
Overall the draft curriculum gives immense freedom to schools in creating their own curriculum, choosing what they believe is important to meet the learning needs of their pupils and defining what is important to assess. However on page 29 it states that "the competencies should be assessed in the context of tasks that require students to use their knowledge and skills in new ways. Students demonstrate the competencies when they adapt what they know and can do to meet the challenges presented by such tasks. Where possible, students should be involved in gathering evidence and making judgments about their own progress (for example, through the use of learning stories, portfolios, reflection, or self- or peer assessment). Schools need to know what impact their programmes are having on student learning. An important way of getting this information is by collecting and analysing school-wide assessment data".
It doesn't take much to infer from this passage that there is an expectation that schools will:
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assess against the Key competencies
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involve students in gathering evidence and making judgements about their progress
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collect and analyse school wide data to determine the impact they are having on student learning
If questioning is so central to learning and thinking, is also a core aspect of the Key Competencies, and is explicitly mentioned within the sets of achievement objectives, then perhaps schools should seriously consider if this is one of the skills they will deliberately target for their students. If questioning is going to be a priority then we need to understand it more thoroughly, we need to have a clear concept of what questioning skills are, we need to have ways of facilitating students into better questioning and methods to assist in evaluating if our efforts are impacting on those questioning skills.