How Children Succeed “Book Club” Part 6 – Curiosity

In serendipitous fashion, the last post of our “book club” blog series will focus on curiosity, which happens to be one of my personal favorites and, as I found out this past Sunday, also happens to be one of my own top five character strengths.* Beyond my own drive of curiosity, as an instructor I am motivated by seeing my students engage in learning by asking deeper questions that go beyond the scope of the lesson’s key points. When students become seekers of information rather than passive takers, they begin to take charge of their own learning and development – the result is powerful.
 
Curiosity Defined
 
Character Lab defines curiosity as a search for information for its own sake. Curiosity manifests as asking questions, an eagerness to explore new things, and an active interest in learning.
 
Application to College Success
 
College is a time when learning is at a concentrated level and a student is in the driver’s seat; the more curious a students, the more they’re going to learn. Character Lab shares that “Curiosity feeds into good thinking because it makes us want information, even when the information could cause us to change our minds. People who think this way are more likely to have beliefs that reflect reality and to make decisions that work out for the best.” Additionally, Character Lab points to research that supports that exposure to different viewpoints results in a variety of positive outcomes.
 
Opportunities and Strategies for Developing Curiosity
 
How can educators cultivate curiosity on daily basis within the constraints of their classrooms and required curricular objectives?
 

  • Make a KWL chart interactive. Traditionally, a KWL chart has three columns: “Things I KNOW,” “Things I WANT to Know,” and “Things I LEARNED.” This past year when my students and I were about to begin reading “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963,” I used an interactive KWL chart to help my students build their background knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. First, students discussed and wrote down everything they knew, or thought they knew, about the Civil Rights Movement. Secondly, I asked students to write down questions they had about the Civil Rights Movement – what did they want to know. Then, I set up a detailed timeline around our classroom with key events and people in the Civil Rights Movement. Students spent time going through the timeline, reading about each event and important person and recording new information in the “Things I Learned” column of their chart. After experiencing the timeline, students returned to their table groups to discuss what they learned with one another. Lastly, we added any questions they still had about the Civil Rights Movements or things they were curious about to the KWL chart. I used the last part to help select supplementary nonfiction texts as we read the novel. This structured process helps cultivate curiosity since it provides some foundational information for them to process and allows them time to make connections and think of questions.

 

  • Create a classroom where questioning is encouraged. I have to admit in my first year or two as a teacher, I struggled significantly to promote a classroom culture in which questioning was encouraged. I seemed to struggle with timing, so even when a student asked a really great question, I didn’t feel like I could pause and address the amazing thinking – and curiosity – that student was demonstrating. Eventually, as I became stronger at managing time, I was able to capitalize on students’ questions, driving their personal engagement and building a stronger community of active learners in our classroom. The caveat of building a culture of curious, question-asking learners is that balance must exist so that the class doesn’t turn into a string of tangents obscuring the key points. If you struggle with your timing, some of our previous posts might help: Instructional Pitfalls #1: Q&A Teaching and The Silent First Five.

 

  • Promote reading no matter what subject you teach. Seriously. I may be a former English Language-Arts teacher on her soapbox, but Reading. Is. Essential! One last direct quote from Character Lab, “Children should be encouraged to read as much as possible and as early as possible, and about the topics that are most interesting to them.” Read.

 

  • Differentiate by content whenever possible. When teaching major skills in many of our classes, we can indulge our students’ curiosity by allowing them to choose some of the content. For example, when teaching research skills in social studies, the students could choose whatever topic they’re most curious about. The same can be done in science when teaching inquiry and experimentation skills. And for math-based classes, students could choose the real-world scenarios they’re curious about in order to apply their new computation or problem-solving skills.

 
What strategies do you have for developing curiosity in your students? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
 
*Want to know your own character strengths? Visit the Authentic Happiness website developed by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
 
In case you missed the first six installments in our “book club” series, here are the posts on Grit, Self-control, Zest, Gratitude, Social Awareness, and Optimism.
 

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