How do you know that?

A great question has tremendous power. Questions are invitations; a serve waiting for a return, a sound calling for an echo. Classrooms, in my view, are the best places to watch questions influence learning.

Questions aren’t created equally. Some questions have power no matter the age level, subject area or context. One of my favorites is “How do you know that?” Adults tend to bristle at this one as it’s interpreted as a suspicion or threat of a claim. But younger people don’t have this baggage. Instead, they pause and really think about it. People don’t often ask this of them. Their answers are hesitant yet thoughtful and unconstrained by ego.

Those who have this question asked of them frequently tend to preempt the question by citing their sources immediately. “The major source of power in an airplane is electricity…and I know that because my dad works at Boeing.” 

Teachers have tremendous influence on this skill as well. I’ve seen many insert sources onto their PowerPoint slides or mention their source while sharing something. It’s also refreshing to hear teachers admit that they don’t always have a good source (yet).

Try asking your students today how they know something and take stock of their answers. Are they personal experiences? A source from the internet? Can they analyze the source for bias? Are students aware of publishing dates and author background?

One simple question: How do you know that? can indeed change everything.