Posing Problems: Crafting Questions that Transform LearningFifty years ago, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published in English. In it, the Brazilian educator and philosopher famously argued that education should not be about transferring knowledge into students’ minds, but rather about inviting students to become “critical co-investigators” with the teacher. At the heart of Freire’s argument is the concept of “problem-posing education”—pedagogy in which students confront problems that are genuine, important, and rooted in the here-and-now. This year’s conference revisits Freire’s challenge to teachers by focusing on the art of problem-posing. How do we present students with genuine problems that allow them to take ownership over their own learning? What kinds of texts and activities spark their inherent curiosities? And how do we pose questions that empower students to think of their readerly and writerly pursuits beyond the walls of a school?
Freire’s emphasis on the co-creation of knowledge by students and teachers resonates deeply with the goals of IWT’s writing-based teaching practices—to build a space where all learners have a voice and a desire to contribute to the larger conversation that is education. Writing-based teaching, just like problem-posing education, begins with the question itself. Every teacher who has struggled to create a good question appreciates the skill this requires. How do we craft questions that foster inquiry and genuine problem-solving? How do we empower students to generate their own questions, ones that they care deeply about? Freire believed that people are authentic beings “only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation.” How can we use writing—within ambitious curriculums and syllabi, full lesson plans, and ever-present assessment requirements—to generate engagement with meaningful problems?
For Freire this challenge was not only pedagogical but political: “Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. ...Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed.” We will look to IWT’s writing-based teaching practices to investigate these ideas from theoretical and practical standpoints. Together, we will write to imagine how a problem-posing approach might transform our classrooms and how writing can help create a democratic learning space.