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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8 Responses to Just Curious.

  1. Dear Ms. Wright,

    Marvelous post (as usual). I have no doubt whatsoever that if more people (including teachers) shared your outlook on the world it would be a much better place. One immediate benefit would be that we would realize that a lot of the things we “know” we don’t.

    Sidenote: There is no doubt in my mind that the learning environment while moving (walking in particular) is far superior to the currently favored “in you seats everyone and listen up” one. Throughout our humnan evolution (and most living things, in fact), virtually ALL learning took place “on the move”.

    Please keep posting.

  2. Rayleen says:

    Great post Shelley! You are so right, I think we cultivate curiousity right out of them. I was introduced to the QAR strategy at a conference I attended and it is a strategy that gets students thinking about levels of questions and how to ask probing questions.

  3. Erin says:

    Thanks for another enlightening post Shelley. I’ve been wondering how supportvd your Admin is. In my school, elementary, we all have to teach the same reading strategy & writing form at the same time. We have to provide learning goals & success criteria. We have to do a pre- assessment, mid-point and summarize assessment and analyze (so called) growth – really it’s about compliance. I have found it nearly impossible to run a classroom like you do ( and I really want to).

  4. Christine says:

    I really enjoy your blog posts and insights. One of the things you’ve made me realize is how little kids are allowed to use technology in the classroom. Usually it’s just the teacher’s using technology to aid their lecture. I’d never thought about it before. Also (along the lines of your post today) you and your students might be interested in this: http://www.theindependentproject.org/
    I just watched the video yesterday, very interesting stuff!

  5. Erin Paynter says:

    Sir Ken’s video on schools killing creativity is one of my faves and a must-show to staff. I agree with Seth that schools do nothing but chip away at our kids’ abilities to think critically and flexibly. As Sir Ken wrote, kids come in to our schools brimming with curiosity and ideas, and by as early as grade 3 or 4, they’ve been conditioned to give the right answer. We need fundamental transformation in teaching to re-teach our current generation, and get it right the first time with our young students.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. I have been working on just this topic this year with my gifted 2-6 classes…getting them to become more involved…to ask ‘why’ just because. It’s interesting because I notice some of the students are quite savvy and they realize if they start to have more of a voice, they also become more responsible for their learning. I can see that some of them are quite comfortable with less responsibility and more doing just what needs to be done.

    We do need to start placing the drive of educational topics in the hands of the students. Their curiosities and interests need to be explored, allowing us to guide them in how to research and study with ‘depth’. My current 1-3rd grade is taking it to heart…and it’s tough to keep up with the research needed to have the curriculum to match their interests.

    Thank you for sharing your views at the high school level… I hope someday we will send them off from elementary still curious with a desire to learn ‘what if’….

  7. Shelly, I am wondering the time table of this process at the beginning of the year and how long befo you start your first project.


  8. Kim Moraes Walker says:

    This is amazing! I wish more teachers could do what you do. Admittedly, I homeschool my son, who is 9. He has ADHD (or the Edison gene, or the hunter brain, or he’s kinesthetic/tactile, or he’s Einstein defiant), and he really has a difficult time in a brick and mortar school. I don’t know if you have any advice for me, if you even have time to give it. We are struggling a bit, but not as much as when my son was in school.

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