How Curious Are You?

I’m curious about curiosity. It’s not something we have talked enough about in the past, but in a society that celebrates creativity and innovative thinking, I feel it will be a lot more prominent in the future. So when I hear someone say that it’s a pity their kids aren’t more curious, I wonder what their motivation in saying that is. Surely you must learn to be curious because you need to be curious to learn. So what’s going on?

If we assume our young people arrive on the planet curious about the world around them, asking questions about anything and everything, what happens to them? Do they just ‘lose’ their natural curiosity and ‘grow out of it’, or is it that we really do manage to teach the curiosity out of them? If curiosity is really the essential food of learning, then the obvious question is, why don’t we focus more on developing searchingly curious minds as a priority in our students? While we’re tripping the 21stCentury learning light fantastic, maybe we should have been more curious about the role of curiosity as a building block of learning.

Sure, its obvious that in the traditional teaching dominated classrooms, learning comes second, and with that, the focus is too often on what to teach, rather than on curious minds asking questions that might more intentionally drive a student’s learning.

So let’s be a bit self-reflective for a moment. How curious are you? How do you know? What would justify your response? Are you simply someone who asks a lot of questions of others or do you prefer to take most things at face value? Would you say you had an ‘enquiring mind’, and again what evidence do you have in saying that?

Its funny, but I think being curious is looked upon by most people as a positive attribute, so I’m guessing you probably took a liberal view in answering those questions. But if we do generally applaud curiosity, why don’t we celebrate a curious mind more openly? Certainly our current political agenda would benefit ‘bigly’ from it.

One thing for certain, if you think you’ve stepped down a gear on the personal learning side lately, maybe you need to thinking about being more intentionally curious rather than just letting new ideas, new strategies, and dare I say it, new technologies slip by. Intentionally curious people are always asking ‘why’, and are always looking for reason, explanation and new possibilities.

Sometimes its almost as if some people put up the “House Full” sign…you know, “I’ve got too much going on and I just cannot learn another thing.” As someone on the ‘other’ side of 50, I would also suggest I hear that way too often from older people, whose experiences in life should pique their curiosity even more.

So how does all of this impact on our schools? Can we ask how curious your school is? Not as label or brand,  but to what extent does your school have a curious culture?…one that promotes young people who want to know more, want to learn more…are passionate learners. If a person’s level of curiosity is directly related to the extent to their capacity and passion for learning then why don’t we pay more attention to it in our schools?

One person who has is John Munro, whose very practical workshop book Curiouser and Curiouser, which is now published through McRel and is a welcome attempt to bring curiosity back into our teaching and learning conversations.

But then curiosity can be also be seen to be dangerous. Not only in the ‘touch and it will burn’ type of curiosity, but in the ‘we don’t know where this will end up’ curiosity. So I get it, the question very quickly becomes, just how far do you take that?…where do you rule the line and just say, well that’s as far as our students can go?

For instance, just how far is a student’s curiosity allowed to take them in their learning? Away from curriculum guideless… surely not?

The critical issue then is the role of curiosity in your classroom, in your school.  Is it a ‘core competency’ that somehow we think we can tick and test, or is a part of your school’s culture?

Funny thing is, if you’re even vaguely serious about project-based/inquiry learning, and it doesn’t have curiosity at its core, forget it. If your view of inquiry learning is ‘path and pace’, rather than ‘voice and choice’, then No Curiosity is Required. And if you think that agency, empowerment and self-direction aren’t a function of a innately curious mind, then you’d better stick to scripts and tight lesson plans.

Interestingly one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned in a school was on a visit to Science Leadership Academy, where Year 11 students were insatiably curious about graphene. What is graphene you ask?…well I’ll let you find that out, but suffice to say it piqued my curiosity enough for me to get more than academic value from the visit. But then we never do know just where our curiosity will lead, do we?

So for me, it’s right here that we also can really speak to the art and science of teaching and learning, and that is first and foremost about how we can best promote and provoke curious minds. Open-ended, higher order questions. Questions the teacher doesn’t know the answer to. Provocation and prompts. As Gary Stager says, a Good Prompt is Worth a Thousand Words.

But then none of this is new,  as you know. In fact when my daughter was completing her teaching Masters I sent her one of the best books that I ever read in my teaching studies which was the Sydney Micro Skills on Advanced Questioning…..published in 1975. At $500 on Amazon, I’d suggest by now there are better alternatives, but you get my drift.

We labour content like its our life’s work, and ‘once upon a time’ maybe it was. Its not now. What matters most is developing a curious inquiring mind that will drive a life of learning, far beyond what the formal learning that can be delivered as a mere entree in our schools.

In case we forget, our world..and their world, is all about new ideas. New ways of doing old things, and new ways of doing completely new things. Imagining such ways are only possible for the curious.

Which brings us back to where this newsletter started. Change. To be honest, much of my life’s work has been driven by a simple curiosity about what school could and should be.

As Obama’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr once said…

Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.

We’re curious to see how curious you are, to reimagine what school could become.

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