How curious are your students?

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In her recent article The Case for Curiosity (Educational Leadership, February 2013), Susan Engel asserts that “curiosity is essential to learning, but in scarce supply in most schools.” One of the major points of the article is that students should be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. While this might first appear to be a rather pedestrian outcome, we should reflect on whether our instructional choices foster curiosity within our students. Engel wants us to make questioning a goal:

Think of question asking as the goal of an educational activity, rather than a happy by-product. Develop activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know and then seek answers.

Unfortunately, sometimes questions are seen as, at-best, an accidental outcome; at worst, they are a disruption to the teacher’s flow. Like most things, curiosity within our students will only be nurtured and developed through purposeful thought & action. What would the outcome be if we examined each lesson through the lens of curiosity? That is, what if we asked ourselves how curious will my students become as a result of this lesson? 

There is no question that this is easier said then done. Undoubtedly the pressures to cover content, meet outcomes and standards, and prepare students for year-end exams leaves many of us wondering about where we might find the time. That said, why do we always try to leave time for questions or squeeze a few questions in at the end. Why don’t we start with questions?

Why don’t we ask our students what they’re curious about? Would it change anything for you if your students told you what they wondered about the solar system, the industrial revolution, statistics, or poetry? Would your students develop a deeper level of engagement if you paused for one moment, right in the middle of a lesson, and asked the students what they’re thinking. When we pause and ask, are there any questions, we’re usually are met with silence; follow that with now, what are you thinking and you’re likely to be surprised at how much is on their minds.

Your move to emphasizing curiosity doesn’t have to be epic. Just begin by keeping curiosity at the forefront of your mind as you develop your usual lesson sequences. Eventually, it will become a natural routine; then a habit.

Fostering curiosity will take some time; time for you to shift your focus and time for the students to develop new, habitual ways of reflection. However, by shifting our instructional mindset to one that makes nurturing curiosity a priority, the same content you’ve taught for years can be transformed into the means that drives an unprecedented level of motivation and engagement.

6 thoughts on “How curious are your students?

  1. I agree with your post – questioning is key to creating curiosity among students. Teachers at my school did a book study and implemented a strategy to help get kids asking their own questions – students are now generating all kinds of excellent questions as they begin new inquiries with students. The book is called “Make Just One Change”.

  2. Hi,
    I am Rachel Hinton. I commented on one of your more recent post for my EDM 310 class. I really enjoyed this post. It is very helpful especially for future teachers like me. This is something that I will keep in mind when I begin teaching in the future. Hopefully if I were to start out with things like this it will be easy to maintain throughout my years of teaching.
    I have really enjoyed your blog. Thank you for all your great post and I can’t wait to read future post.

    • Thanks for reading my blog. I’m honored that your EDM 310 class reads my blog (I’ve seen a few cohorts over the years). Fostering curiosity allows students to be active participants in their own educational experience. It is, unfortunately, something I wasn’t always great at, especially early in my career, but it’s no less important. We continue to collectively learn how important it is to nurture curiosity and engagement in our students; makes them feel empowered! Good luck with your program!


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