I open this week's post with a reprised quote from last week. Susan Engle (2013) observed: “Given that curiosity has such a positive impact on learning, you might assume that teachers are doing everything they can to encourage it. But, that is not the case.”
Let's explore why this is the case and what can be done about it. First, let's solidify our argument that the utilization of the innate curiosity that children bring with them to the classroom, as they become students, is worthy of further discovery. Consider these perspectives.
In his 2010 article, titled "The Power of Curiosity," T. Kashdan wrote: “Curiosity creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy and delight.”
Why wouldn’t we utilize the natural curiosity of our students to enhance their learning? What if experiencing joy and delight while engaged in the process of discovery was the everyday experience of our learners? Who could argue against that as the reality?
Consider this, a 2017 article titled "Schools Are Missing What Matters About Learning" in The Atlantic by S.B Kaufman. “Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgement-day-style testing.” This is so powerful that merits repeating , with key concepts highlighted for impact. “Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgement-day-style testing.
I ask my readers, when, in your educational journey, did you experience novelty, autonomy, choice, and the opportunity to pose your own questions, rather than simply answering the questions of others? If this was not your experience, I am not surprised. All I can do is offer an apology and ask "if not then, why not now?"
Teachers are not being malicious in overlooking student curiosity as an instructional tool. They are overwhelmed by the demands placed on them; demanding circumstances that lead them to teach the way they were taught, relying on the familiar even if they recognize that familiarity does not assure effectiveness. However, to simply dismiss an opportunity without making an attempt to enhance and improve one's arsenal of instructional strategies could easily be interpreted as malpractice. So, in the wake of competing demands, I offer the following simple strategies as a place to begin leading with curiosity.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell suggests ten straight forward ways to stimulate student curiosity in the classroom.
1. "Value and reward curiosity." When curiosity is observed, praise it and encourage it.
2. "Notice when students are puzzled or appear confused, so as not to overlook a teachable moment." Their confusion might very well be an opportunity to ask "what are your wondering about?"
3. "Explicitly teach children how to ask quality questions, reminding them that good questions contain “why”, “what if” and “how.”
4. "Spread curiosity around. Use it as a deliberate instructional resource by pairing students of varying degrees of observable curiosity in project- based activities."
5. "Encourage students to tinker." Provide time and opportunities for students to day dream and doodle.
6. Use current events as a method of stimulating students’ questions.
7. "Explore a variety of diverse cultures and societies," creating that 'openness to unfamiliar experiences, laying the groundwork for greater opportunities to experience discovery, joy and delight.'
8. "Teach students to be skeptics and to challenge the status quo with open- minded, deep questioning."
9. Model curiosity. “Children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials” (Engel 2013).
10. "Encourage curiosity at home. Work with parents on how they might assist in nurturing their child’s curiosity by providing stimulating opportunities," and then be deliberate in bringing those experiences into the classroom and incorporating them into the instruction.
Student curiosity must not be underestimated or overlooked. Embracing the curiosity of the learner is not rocket science. It is simply good teaching. Again, quoting Susan Engel: "Curiosity is not the frosting on the cake. It is the cake itself."