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Categorize your questions

22 July, 2019 - 09:40
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Your investigation should bring numerous new questions to your mind. For example, if you were investigating the influence of Johann Sebastian Bach on European Classical music, some of your research might cause you to wonder:

Examples of questions inspired by an investigation

  • What does "well-tempered" mean?
  • Just how many of J.S. Bach's descendents were also composers?
  • Does Classical music really sound so different from Baroque?
  • What is counterpoint?

Typically, as you do your research, you would just follow up on these questions, to see what the answers tell you in relationship to your main question. But for this investigation you should write down each question that the investigation inspires and make notes on what you found out in answer to that question.

After you are finished with your investigation and your report/presentation, categorize your questions. You can do this either by creating a table with three columns and putting each question in the correct column, or by creating a question "tree" in which each question leads either to an answer, to other questions and searches, or to a dead end. In either case, you should end up identifying three types of questions.

A Question Tree

Figure 2.1 Two of the questions in this inquiry led to more questions; they were good inquiry-type questions. Three led to fact-gathering, so they were good for the investigation, but not for inspiring an inquiry. The "how did he..." question was too difficult for the inquirer to pursue without more music theory and ear-training background

Question Categories

  • Questions that you answered with a few facts
  • Questions that inspired further questions, deeper investigation, insights, attempts to test or practice tentative understandings (for example, while listening to or discussing music, or while playing an instrument), or attempts to organize, compare, or check the information you have gathered.
  • Questions that you abandoned because understanding the answer required background knowledge that you do not have

It is important to realize that how a question is classified depends on the learner and the context.

For example, Inquirer A might look up J.S. Bach's descendants, note how many were composers, and include that as a "fact" in the report. But Inquirer B might become very interested in those sons and how their lives and music were affected by the fact that J. S. Bach was their father. B's final report might even focus on a musical family "dynasty," a phenomenon that is fairly common in the world of music but that B had never thought about before, making this question one that led to new insight.

On the other hand, Inquirer B might find that discussions of "well-tempered" tuning employ many unfamiliar terms and so require too much background knowledge to pursue during this inquiry, while the same question leads Inquirer A to new insights about tuning systems and the history of keyboard instruments.

So the goal of this creation is to develop some insights about you as an inquirer. What types of questions led you simply to discover facts that you found easy to understand and use in your report? Although they are useful during an inquiry because they lead to relevant information, "fact" questions do not make good inquiry-guiding questions, because they do not encourage you to stretch your understanding, abilities, or the ways you think about music.

Which kinds of questions became the focus of your investigation, causing you to ask more questions, dig deeper into the literature, think about what you found, question or compare the answers you found, or change the way you think about music and musicians? Investigation/insight questions make the best inquiry questions. Did you have only one question in this category, or was there more than one? Consider carefully what it was about these questions that put them in this category for you.

Finally look at the questions that you could not pursue because understanding the answer requires more background than you have right now. Some of these questions may have lost your interest already. However, there may be a question or two in this category that really frustrate you because you would like to have that background and be the kind of person who can understand the answer to that question. Questions that require more background than you have right now do not make good questions for your next inquiry; however they can serve as guide-posts to keep you on track in a long-term series of inquiries.