I considered several different possibilities. I thought about student-centered strategies, although that was too broad to be helpful. I also thought about focusing on empathy for my students. I think seeing things from the perspective of our students can be really revealing and informative. It didn’t really do much to inform the kinds of activities to drive my teaching, though. I also considered authenticity. This is one I considered for quite a while, as I think there’s great value when we can engage students in authentic tasks and projects. Ultimately, though, curiosity won out.
Encouraging curiosity in my students appealed to me because I feel like one of the most powerful and important aspects of learning is asking questions. Too often, our students look to us to pose the questions. It’s easy then for them to work to find the answers. What’s lacking in this approach, however is ownership and buy-in. When students ask their own questions or approach the course material with a curious mind, they are more likely to be invested and intellectually engaged in their learning. As students ask interesting and insightful questions, it also helps to keep things fresh for us.
How can we encourage curiosity in our teaching?
- Model curiosity – One of the quickest ways to kill curiosity is to project the image that you have everything all figured out. If we intentionally or unintentionally communicate that the content is rote, the students will assume that their role is simply to absorb our wisdom. However, if we acknowledge the unanswered questions or debates in our field, this sparks students’ interest and curiosity. Similarly, if a student asks an interesting question, it can be a good thing to say, “That’s a great question. We’ll have to explore this together.” This not only models your own curiosity, but also invites students to contribute their questions and ideas.
- Encourage students to generate questions – Following up on the last point, it’s important to invite students to ask questions related to a reading, lecture, or activity. One obvious way to do this is to invite students to ask questions in class. With large classes, however, this can be more difficult. In many cases, students may be nervous to ask a question in front of their peers. Instead, encourage students to email, Tweet, drop you a note, or otherwise submit a question in a more anonymous manner. I also like to employ a physical or virtual “parking lot” for my classes. This is typically a physical space in the classroom where students can write out a question on a sticky note and either during or at the conclusion of class adhere it to the space reserved for this purpose. I typically use Padlet, a virtual corkboard where students can post questions anonymously. You can then either address the questions as they arise, at the beginning of the next class, or in a follow-up email to the class. In any of these formats, by encouraging students to ask questions, you encourage their curiosity.
- Engage students in full-on inquiry. In an earlier post, I explored the idea of levels of inquiry. In this model, projects can be comprised of activities that require increasing levels of student ownership in the process. At it’s most basic level an inquiry experience can simply encourage students to verify an idea, formula or concept that you present to them. At the next level, you provide a structure or series of steps for them to follow. Leveling up one more time, you can provide less structured guidance for them. In all these models, however, the instructor provides the focus and question that creates the parameters for inquiry. I think to really encourage curiosity in our students, we need to design open inquiry experiences for our students in which they specify a question and determine the process by which they will answer it.
What strategies do you use to pique your students’ curiosity?