The Impact of Powerful Questions

Totidem Verbis

“Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans?” (Psalm 2:1, New Living Translation) – Amazing that these questions posed long ago to a different people in a different place still apply today. They are powerful questions, not bound by time or location. What if the questions you asked in class were powerful? could be applied by the students later? in a different setting?
The technique of asking the right question, one that may be ageless and endless, is an essential skill for instructors. From the Greeks, we learned the importance of the Socratic Method, posing thoughtful questions to facilitate student learning, a method effective within pedagogy and andragogy.
Class discussion is important in both evening and online courses. In general, our classrooms are set up to encourage interactivity; often participation is assessed a percentage of overall grade. Online, participation in discussion boards must meet specific criteria and is assessed accordingly. In both deliveries, questions are valuable to help students grasp knowledge, respond to it, and take it to a new level of understanding. Questions provide the bridge between knowledge in textbooks and understanding in life.

Example from the Master Teacher

Jesus in His teaching ministry on earth asked powerful questions, questions that revealed the heart of His message, questions that provided an opportunity for the listeners to process information, to make connections, and to think critically. For example in Matthew, Jesus asked, “who do you say that I am?” He could just as easily have asked a leading question or a yes-no question, such as, “am I the Christ, the Son of the God?” or “do you believe I am the Son of God?” or “you believe I am the Son of God, don’t you?”
In another situation, Jesus queried, “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?” A simple yes or no cannot answer this question; to answer, one must analyze his thoughts and evaluate his beliefs.
Following Jesus’ example, purposefully crafting powerful questions is especially effective to introduce our students to Christian worldview. These questions are not just factual questions or the what of the lesson, but questions that require the students to process information using skills from the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy; in other words, these questions require students to evaluate, to synthesize, and to analyze. These questions pull the lesson from the pages of the text, provide opportunity to interject faith, and transport the lesson into the home, the workplace, and the community, giving the students the opportunity to analyze the impact of Biblical truths on their personal and professional lives.
The following are a few of the characteristics of these potentially powerful questions:
Focused on the intersection of Christian and secular worldview (i.e. collision point)

• Intentional – prepared in advance and written down
• Significant – deal with life issues
• Personal – may not have one right answer
• Timeless – transcend course content
• Complex – spawn other questions/not easily answered
• Open-ended – require critical thinking (use Bloom’s taxonomy verbs)

Examples of Potentially Powerful Questions

Generated from university mission statement. In the first course of each of our programs, we introduce Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s (OKWU) mission statement and pillars to the students and give them the opportunity to reflect upon the mission statement and the four pillars of the university and their impact. The mission is the foundation upon which each of our programs is built and the essence of our philosophy.
As I share with you a few examples, please consider how you can build upon this foundation in your course. For review, here are the Mission and Pillars of OKWU, each segment followed by examples of potentially powerful questions:

As an evangelical Christian university of The Wesleyan Church, Oklahoma Wesleyan University models a way of thought, a way of life, and a way of faith. It is a place of serious study, honest questions, and critical engagement, all in the context of a liberal arts community that honors the primacy of Jesus Christ, the priority of Scripture, the pursuit of Truth, and the practice of Wisdom.

Possible questions. What are potential connections between “a way of thought, a way of life, and a way of faith”? In your experience, what are specific connections between these three? How are they related in regard to “serious study, honest questions, and critical engagement”?
What is a pillar? How does this concept apply to your life? to your program of study?
Is one fundamental pillar of OKWUs mission more important than another? Explain.

Pillar 1
The primacy of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is the lens for all learning and the Lord of our daily lives.

Possible questions. What is the lens through which you see life? (the lens might be work, family, personal accomplishments/fulfillment, status, material possessions, recognition)
How would your situation differ if Jesus were the lens?
Can you think of a time when Jesus was the lens for learning for you? What was the situation? What was the lesson?

Pillar 2
The priority of Scripture as the inerrant and authoritative written Word of God that guides us in all matters of faith, learning, and living.

Possible questions. How is/can Scripture be a priority in your field of study? or how is Scripture not a priority in your field? (answers to this latter question may identify collision points in your field)
Can you think of a situation in which God’s Word guided you? Share an analysis of it.
If you accepted God’s Word as “inerrant and authoritative,” what difference would it make in your perspective on life and your decisions in life?

Pillar 3
The pursuit of Truth as an objective, attainable reality grounded in the person and example of Jesus Christ and anchored in the Bible.

Possible questions. How does the example of Jesus Christ relate to you personally? professionally?
Is Truth absolute? objective? immutable? trustworthy?
In what way(s) does Truth matter? What is one example of pursuing truth in your field?

Pillar 4
The practice of Wisdom as the goal for all members of the university community, who work to promote healing and wholeness in a broken culture and hurting world.

Possible questions. What does it mean to set “the practice of wisdom” as a goal? How can you achieve this goal?
In what specific ways is our culture broken? In what specific ways does our world hurt? What would some examples of the practice of wisdom be? Specifically how would the practice of wisdom help?

Generated from course objectives. By the completion of this course, COMM1823 Introduction to Human Communication and its requirements, as a learner you will:

• Identify the value of studying communication and define the major components of the communication process.
• Describe the processes and skills that are necessary for effective communication in its various social settings.
• Analyze the impact of personal identity, as it is shaped by the various social settings, on communication.

Possible questions. How does your communication reveal your spiritual identity? Support with specific examples.
What is more important, what you say or what you do? Explain with specific scenarios.
Paul writes in Philemon 6 “that the communication of thy faith may become effectual….” What are the steps involved in communicating your faith? How does communication become effectual?

Summary
Questions are an effective tool when teaching adults. Consider preparing one or two potentially powerful questions for each session of your courses by doing the following:

1. Determine the key principles in your content that you want your students to grasp.
2. Prepare questions to focus on these important aspects.
3. Review and revise the questions to assure opportunity for critical thinking using verbs from the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, synthesize)
4. Write down questions that work, which take the lesson from the page to workplace application or from the Scripture to life application.

Questions become the bridge between the academic lesson and the spiritual takeaway, between secular and Christian worldview. Will the students automatically make the connections? Will they reach the goal set for them to understand content from a biblical perspective without purposefully planning for it? Maybe not. Is the extra effort invested worth it? By all means, “for what will it profit a man (the adult student) if he gains the whole world (or his degree), and loses his soul? (Mark 8:36, New King James Version)

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