I’ve been fortunate in my career. I’ve had terrific mentors, supportive colleagues, and unique opportunities to learn and grow. I’m grateful for the career that’s developed out of this good fortune. When I reflect on my part in this growth though, what I’ve contributed on my own, what I wish to impart to my children, what I wish all educators to impart to their students, there is one quality to which I attribute most of my success: curiosity.
I’ve always wondered how things work. I’ve never been afraid to ask either (or more accurately, my curiosity was stronger than my fear of asking). So there’s my secret. It’s not intellect, skill or even hard work that has brought me most of my success. It’s an insatiable curiosity that I just can’t shake, and I hope I never do.
Learning vs. Repeating
Curiosity get’s a bad rap (killing the cat and all) but I think it’s one of the greatest indicators of success and happiness. It also happens to be one of several qualities (like creativity and playfulness) that is innate in us as children. Sadly, too-often it gets siphoned out of us by our school systems.
Never in our history has there been a better time to be curious. Answers to just about any question are at your fingertips with very little effort. Yet, curiosity is an endangered species in most classrooms across the country. In an era of high-stakes testing and standards-based learning, we are constantly being told what to teach. Curriculums even give you a paint-by-numbers road map to “hitting” all the required standards, teaching all the “stuff” you must teach.
Assessments are important, especially formative ones. Standards-based learning is essential to know where we’re going and what success looks like. Still, I challenge you not to lose sight of what learning is really about. It’s about the satisfaction that comes from moving from curiosity to wonder to investigation to answers. Find ways to engender student curiosity within your curriculum. Make time to go outside the curriculum for organic wonderings that capture your students’ minds. If you let the seeds of curiosity take root, it will pay dividends. The students will be engaged. They will appreciate the art of learning, and they will see you as a door opener, not a door closer.
Here are some tips for creating a curiosity-friendly classroom:
- Curiosity Journals – Have students write every day something they wonder about. They needn’t answer every question but acknowledge those that do.
- Questions sans Answers – pose thought-provoking questions daily and allow them to go unanswered. Train students to feel comfortable in the awkward space of not knowing the answer and just wondering.
- Curiosity Challenge – Whatever your lesson plan, challenge students to find something they are curious about, even if unrelated.Then make a connection back to the lesson plan. This has the added side-effect of buffeting the learning by making an authentic connection.
What about you? How do you inspire student curiosity?
*Today’s image comes from Curious George Visits the Library by H. A. Rey.