While I don’t usually watch TV shows dealing with Medical drama, there is a new show that recently started called The Good Doctor that I did have the opportunity to watch. The premise is that a young doctor is recently hired to be a resident surgeon at a prestigious hospital in California. The catch is that the doctor (Murphy) has been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism and Savant Syndrome. While these qualities are interesting enough for the majority of the audience, I found something deeper in the pilot episode that made me think about innovation in education. You see, the writers have created a character that explores almost taboo or atypical topics with questions:
Dr Murphy: (speaking to the lead surgeon who had just admonished him for not belonging at the hospital alluding to his disability) I saw a lot of surgeons in Medical School. You are much better than them. I have a lot to learn from you. (pause) You are very arrogant. Do you think that helps you be a good surgeon? Does it hurt you as a person? Is it worth it?
These simple probing questions attack the very nature of the problem at hand. Yet, because they are asked with no aggression, they become very real questions. In my experience, innovation occurs when we define a problem at it’s root cause. We can then begin the creative process of brainstorming and think of solutions before implementing them. The biggest hindrance to innovation always seems to be the stumbling block of defining the problem. When was the last time you asked a direct and atypical question that attacked the heart of a problem?
Perhaps I am an atypical educator and father. I read about teaching students how to ask questions in Make Just One Change by Rothstein and Santana. Since that time, when I pick my children up from school, I stopped asking how their day went. Instead, I started asking them what interesting questions they had asked during the day. In some cases, my son (in Middle School) will respond with a question that leads to an interesting discussion. Other times, he will state that he understood everything and didn’t need to ask any questions. This last occurrence happens more frequently than the first. This in turn leads me to wonder when, or how often, do teachers allow the students to explore or wonder about the lessons they are presenting. Perhaps the hindrance to innovation is not in defining a problem, but rather a lack of the ability to ask interesting questions.
Could it be that assumptions about what we know prevent us from asking the important questions? I don’t want to believe so, but perhaps I’m wrong. In a lesson, we expect students to build on what they’ve already learned by activating prior knowledge. What if the assumption that the prior knowledge was whole or complete and all answers to possible questions were previously remembered? It is possible that the minutia of the details have escaped the understanding in our rush to get the lesson out, to cover the standards, to prove that a student has learned the material. Of course this raises the question of when was the last time we listened rather than heard someone say something?
I’ll put it to you …What interesting questions have you or your students asked recently?