Just Curious.

One of the questions I’m asked frequently is, “Are your students curious?”  My answer? No.  At least not when they first enter my classroom.  By grade 10, we’ve schooled the curiousity and imagination out of them.  As Seth Godin states, in his recently released manifesto on education:

Our culture has a dreaming problem. It was largely created by the current regime in schooling, and it’s getting worse. Dreamers in school are dangerous. Dreamers can be impatient, unwilling to become well-rounded, and most of all, hard to fit into existing systems.

The truth is, I doubt many teachers understand the type of students we’re creating with our current educational system.  If they did, I doubt many would continue to perpetuate it. But from my observations, our traditional education system slowly, and sometimes harshly, drains the curiosity right out of our students.

By the time I get my students in grade 10, it doesn’t occur to them to ask many questions. Certainly not to ask questions for which there are no ”real” or fast answers. Even in science, they don’t tend to ask why things happen.  Why did that chemical reaction take place? What actually happened inside the test tube? Instead, they’re look for the correct answer to finish their lab.

My solution? It’s not an easy fix. I think, in the long run, it would be easier to try to prevent it from happening. But since that’s not something I can control, here’s what I’ve done instead.

I ask my students what they’d like to learn. How would they like our classroom structured? What should their education and learning look like? But here’s the caveat. Students who have little experience outside of a traditional education system, really have no way to think about it, except as such.

Sometimes we have to start with the negative.  What don’t you like about your education and learning?  Once we have this, I can ask. “If you don’t like sitting and listening to lectures all the time, what might it look like instead?” In all honesty, this can be a really long process, but it’s vital to our students beginning to dream, probably for the first time, about what their learning can look like.

The second thing I do is show them videos that introduce them to other possibilities. Chris Lehmann’s TED-x talk is a favourite:

I use these videos to start a discussion about what learning might look like in our classroom.  Then I co-opt them into beginning to design their own learning environment. How? Using inquiry and PBL.  It’s a slow process that involves a lot of talking and encouraging them to think of learning as something that doesn’t stop at the door of our classroom.

I think Godin gets it right when he asks, ““What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?” But I would also add to it, “What are you doing to fire up their curiosity, rather than just demanding their compliance?”

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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10 Responses to Just Curious.

  1. This is such a powerful post. I’ve seen this with my own son, at times he’s resistant to try things that my fourth graders embrace with tenacity. I think a greater movement towards student-driven, problem/project base learning beginning in elementary school will build open-minds and curiosity.

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  2. glichtman says:

    As I wrote when you offered the Flipping Bloom idea, I have always been convinced that the key to getting students (or anyone) to be curious is for them to have a clear and personal understanding of their place in the process; the “why” of learning and life. That is the core of my Falconer process, and we have shown that even elementary school students can understand and personalize why they want to learn…the rest lines up from there!

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    • I think you point out something really important. So often in learning we talk about what and how, we don’t often spend a lot of time wondering why. I think if our classrooms spent more time chasing “why”, we’d have kids who remain curious.

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      • glichtman says:

        I just posted something about why on my blog, from the mouths of so many students. They tell us exactly what promotes passion, and passion is the “why”.

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  3. tashacowdy says:

    I love this post. It makes me think of a TED talk by Regina Dugan on how the fear of failure limits us and how students need to know that it’s okay to fail so that they conduct inquiries and develop successes.

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  4. Pingback: Curiousity – what’s that all about? « It's all about you!

  5. I really appreciate this post too – a great case well argued. I’ve used some of those videos with my work with kids with SpLD too 🙂 I came to this blog because I’d just posted on the subject of curiousity and why we as adults need to hold onto it so we can free our thinking up a bit and make better decisions

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  6. @LaylMarie says:

    I encourage my students to have a Journal where they write every little interesting thing or topic the listen/watch/see/look/read about in any place they are or any book or tv show they watch, and perforn and extra job googling it and then writing a short summary and recomendations in their Journal.
    Sometimes I also invite them to open their textbook on any page they want and read just for fun! And write about it in their journal! Its fun!
    Follow me on @LaylMarie

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