Noor (2005), acrylic on canvas – Noor is Arabic for Divine Light

Research Study 1: Questioning

… try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language… – Rilke, 1903�

As a life-long learner, I have had the opportunity to design, implement and publish two action research studies in the Canadian context.

For my Master’s in Teaching, I focused on critical thinking, particularly critical questioning. Too often when we teach critical thinking, we encourage students to analyze, investigate and deconstruct the arguments of others. I decided to design a critical questioning exercise that would turn the lens on the self, rather than the other. In this exercise, students engage in meta-questioning – they apply a critical thinking framework to their very own question, and therefore, to themselves. I have used this exercise as an avenue to explore our deeply ingrained biases, stereotypes and prejudgments. When we bring these to light, we can indeed transform.

I continue to iterate and modify this method according to the learners and their needs. The below is a general framework that can be modelled and practiced over time.

Meta-Questioning Method:
STEP 1: Engage and Brainstorm – Students engage with a piece of media and record as many questions as they can. This becomes their question bank.
STEP 2: Attain the Concept – Students organize questions into themes based on Barrell’s (2003) critical thinking framework: Source, Evidence, Assumptions, Definitions, and Slant (SEADS).
STEP 3: Focus – Students choose their favourite question from their own question bank.
STEP 4: Meta-Question – Students apply the critical thinking framework to their own question. See the below worksheet example.
STEP 4: Share – Students share personal experiences of meta-questioning. Students highlight challenges, strengths and purpose of this exercise, recognizing that their first question may not always get to the heart of their personal inquiry.
STEP 5: Reframe – Students have the opportunity to ‘ask a better question’ by their own standards.

Reference: Barell, J., 2003. Developing more curious minds. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Example of Student Worksheet for Meta-Questioning

Your Original Question:

STEP 1: Who is the source? What is your context?

STEP 2: What is your evidence? What experience are you basing this question on?

STEP 3: What are you assuming when you ask this question?

STEP 4: How do you define the key words in your question?

STEP 5: What is your slant? Why are you asking this question?

Now, let’s rephrase our question (use the back of this sheet to practice and then input your favourite questions below)

Rephrased Question(s):

Research Study 2: Being

A class mind-map representing various responses to the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ – Note: Students abbreviated Quality of Life as Q.o.L.

For my second research study, I designed exercises for the exploration of humanness. My aim was for students to engage with many dimensions of their experience, in order to highlight the ways in which all of humanity is connected, regardless of race, religion, class, gender, and culture.

I selected narrative, dialogic, creative, and media-based pedagogies to engage students with their humanness. For example, in addition to painting and storytelling, students engaged in a reflective journaling activity. The same question was posed each day – this repetition highlights the ever-evolving nature of our experiences as human beings. The vehicle for this process was email, as it was the most accessible tool for all students, regardless of socio-economic status.

Every day for five days, students engaged in the following process:
STEP 1: Receive email from teacher with the following question, ‘Based on your experiences today, what does it mean to be human?’
STEP 2: Respond with the first thought that comes to mind.

Student Responses – Artifact A:
April 9: To have the ability to think, speak, breathe and live your own life. To have freedom.
April 10: To be able to have a choice in what you say and/or do.
April 11: To have a say in your future. To make that choice for ones-self.
April 12: To have the ability to say no, to have a choice in what you do.

Student Responses – Artifact B:
April 10: To be intelligent
April 10: To use our capabilities
April 11: To set goals and reach them