Monday, January 24, 2011

Truth Spaces (5) Top Down and Side-by-Side Questions

Questions can often be used in a top-down relationship. This type of relationship lies at the centre of traditional western methods of learning between teachers and students. Top-down questions are used as a teaching tool to find out how much (or little) students might know, in order to teach them the appropriate material. To fill up knowledge cans! The person asking the question is marked by these characteristics:

  • Has the right answers gained through study, experience, perspective.
  • Directs and targets questions to direct knowledge into empty cans.
  • Controls the process because the end purpose is clear – these certain things need to be understood.
  • Has clarity because no interruptions occur and support materials are prepared.
  • Is efficient because time is used well.
  • Does not require personal relationships and engagement, though of course it may involve good relationships.

In many situations top-down questions are vital. Let’s never forget how we all need teachers and experts. About some matters we are empty cans who need to be filled. I cannot imagine skipping my intensive driving instruction when I was learning to drive a car. How much I needed an expert instructor to be specific, targeted and controlling in his teaching. I started out with nil experience and knowledge.

In contrast with the top-down approach, there is side-by-side questioning. The person asking such questions:

  • Has good answers gained through study, experience, perspective but does not view others as empty cans. Those questioned also have experience, perspective and maybe study too.
    Is less clearly directed, encouraging a range of possibilities.
  • Gives away control, allowing others to respond in their own ways.
  • Is less straightforward because interruptions are possible.
  • Is highly inefficient because others are being allowed into an untidy learning process
  • Does require personal relationship and engagement, because questions open up dialogue which means two-way interaction.

Notice that side-by-side questions are riskier, untidier, and more costly. They make the questioner vulnerable because no one can be sure what might happen next. By definition, side-by-side questions open up conversation in multiple possible directions. Ask a side-by-side question and you belong automatically in relationship where anything could happen next.

In many life situations we do come with experience, perspective and some understanding. We have our assumptions, prejudices and some ignorance, but also some giftings and life experience. When someone we trust and respect comes alongside and asks questions side-by-side we can learn and grow in very different ways. Side-by-side questions open up truth spaces.

1 comment:

dss said...

So what kind of questions does Christ ask?