I’m becoming more curious about curiosity. I’m beginning to think it’s the only “C” that truly matters, and that it’s been badly disrespected in all the conversation around the 4Cs or 7Cs or howevermanyCs that people have been throwing around.
I mean really, when it comes to learning, what comes before curiosity?
Critical thinking doesn’t, because if you’re not curious as to whether something is true or fake or accurate or real, you won’t really think very hard about it.
Creativity doesn’t, because making stuff is borne out of the curiosity of “What if?” What if I try this note here? What if I apply this touch of paint there? What if I mixed these two things together, or built another arm on that robot, or…
Communication doesn’t come before curiosity, because if you’re not curious about your audience, if you’re not using curiosity-driven empathy to craft your message, it probably won’t get across.
And collaboration? Isn’t that rooted in the curiosity of what other people might know and contribute to your own learning? People don’t collaborate for the sake of collaborating…except in schools, of course.
Think of most skills, all the stuff that doesn’t show up on the report card, all the stuff that probably matters more than the stuff that shows up on the report card, and you’ll find they are steeped in curiosity. Problem solving, problem finding, persistence, cooperation, adaptability, initiative…(add your 200 more here). Which of those doesn’t require being curious first and foremost? Can you be any of that if you’re not?
Hard to find one.
Reality: Kids are curious as hell when they’re 3, 4, 5 years old. They’re not so curious any more when they’re 13, 14, 15, years old, at least not about what’s in the curriculum. And the discussion around why is long over: we kill it in schools.
Reality #2: The most “successful” (and you can define that just about any way you want) people moving forward will be the most curious. The ones who are constantly asking questions. The ones who are always wondering “What if?”
Reality #3: Connection amplifies curiosity. This Internet thing has been the greatest boon to curiosity ever. I mean think about having a connection and NOT being curious. Sad!
So, what are we doing in schools to develop curious, connected, learners? Because the first without the second ain’t gonna cut it in the modern world.
Robert Schuetz says
As you’ve stated before, we’re placing a bazillion adjectives before the word learning as part of our best guesses as to how to improve achievement. We can say with 100% certainty, curiosity ignites learning. If students are provided greater opportunities to feed their curiosities, then we can expect better learning and greater achievement. Impactful instruction is not based on having all of the answers, rather it’s about asking the right questions. I’m pretty sure Socrates, Dewey, and Papert would agree.
My favorite part of this post was when you stated, “Think of most skills, all the stuff that doesn’t show up on the report card, all the stuff that probably matters more than the stuff that shows up on the report card, and you’ll find they are steeped in curiosity.” I very much agree that curiosity is such an important quality to allow our students to continue to experience. I can think about how I operate as an adult when I am asked to do something that I lack curiosity in. It is such a struggle because I do not have a genuine interest in the topic therefore I interact with the topic at a surface level. We all know when our students interact with material at a surface level, information is truly not being engaged with or processed. I can see how schools focus so much on processes and mastery of skills that they ignore catering to a student’s personal needs and desires. It is very sad to think about because how can we develop life long learners when we control everything they will be learning about? There needs to be a better way to allow student’s to explore while also engaging in material. There are better ways! Often times these methods are put on the back burner when high stakes testing becomes a priority.
Susan d'Heursel says
When kids ask “What is…?” or similar questions, one should never give the answer staraight away, but instead pretend some ignorance and say something like “What an interesting thought. I’m not sure myself. Where do you think we could find the answer?” The problem is most people can’t be bothered to spend the time!
Aaron Davis says
Interesting point Will. Still think I agree with Dave Cormier’s argument that if learners do not ‘care’ then we are in trouble http://davecormier.com/edblog/2014/12/21/learnings-first-principle-the-most-important-thing-i-learned-this-year/
Will Richardson says
I think “caring” is driven by curiosity, by wanting to learn more. Without it, learning doesn’t happen.
I think people (students, too!) need a reason to be curious. I have no interest in or reason to care about football scores, so I find myself more or less ignorant about this particular topic. Convince me football is important to me personally or the larger world in some way, and you might succeed in teaching me about it.
For students, when the content itself is not naturally engaging for students (or even a subset of students), it must be the role of the teacher to engender students’ curiosity by contextualizing or creating curriculum in such a way that it matters to students.
What are we doing in schools? We’re setting students to solve problems in the real world; they’re doing work that matters. They must be curious, because they care about what they’re doing.
Ken Wallace says
This argument has been around in one way or another probably as long as schools have existed. I don’t think I’ve ever met a student who didn’t care about something, even if that something is not that which we put in front of them while expecting compliant “caring.”We hosted the world’s first student Google summit last year and Jamie Casap challenged students to consider the problems they would like to see solved and then set out to solve them. Many of our students are doing just that in everything from re-designing parking lot traffic and parking patterns to developing apps to house multiple pieces of relevant student information in one place. School has been about inauthentic learning for too long. Most students are naturally curious, but we’ve designed schools around answers. If we value questions more than answers, especially authentic student questions, I am convinced that student curiosity will thrive because humans care about that which matters in real ways. It’s the pivot to true student inquiry that we need. As we have improved our teaching and learning constructs to provide space for authentic student inquiry, I see evidence of better learning experiences every day.
Garreth Heidt says
I’m working with two HS seniors in an independent study. They’re looking to create something that will help teachers and students focus on curiosity as the fulcrum to move the educational world. They’ve done a good deal of research, outreach, and conducted numerous empathy interviews with teachers and students.
You can follow their work at gloriousfever.wordpress.com
Also suggest the work of Thomas Armstrong towards this end (and others ends) in “Awakening Genius in the Classroom” and other books.
Scott Bennett says
You raise some very interesting questions about assessments and skills and the nature of learning. However, I would extend this beyond today’s learners. Teachers also need to be curious. They need to be given permission and time and resources to follow subjects and content and to develop skills which they can model for students. I teach a course in I.B. called Theory of Knowledge, and as a class we are constantly working on questioning skills. While a full blown philosophy class might be over the heads of many students, having a class where we can focus on asking questions rather than always trying to answer them is crucial.
So the question then is why do schools kill creativity? I would argue that while the school is the most immediate to the student, it should not bear the majority of the blame here. It’s akin to saying the bullet killed curiosity rather than the hand holding the gun.
There are so many reasons why and means through which our society devalues curiosity. First, we live in a society that mostly fears and rejects non-conformity. Curiosity, asking questions, is often seen as a an affront to authority. Schools, like other institutions (churches, military, athletics, corporate and commercial America) stresses the importance of and imposes the unquestioning of these hierarchies.
Second, curiosity requires an amount of active participation in and with the world around you. In this on-demand, streaming, and content consuming time period, what incentive do people have to work for understanding? A little glowing screen can provide you with limitless worlds and answers, so I wonder why students (people) would want to be distracted from their distractions. Let’s call it the tech-istential crisis of our time.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully support you point of view. We need to value curiosity and wonder, but how can do teachers do that in a system that so clearly values structured and rigid means? I think we start with encouraging and enabling teachers as leaders and then as models. For generations now teachers have been regarded as the smartest person in the overcrowded, underfunded, and under-supported public school system. Why can’t we give teachers what they need to be successful? Prioritizing small class sizes, protecting planning time, providing ways for teachers to build relationships and community should all be on school improvement plans. In four years of teaching English at the high school level, my students have rarely opened our textbook. Why? Because in my class that doesn’t promote curiosity and passion and learning. Our scores are solid, if not good, for an urban public school. Kids are interested (maybe not excited, but certainly interested) in coming to class in spite of the problems that poverty and a transient population, a 7AM start time, and a 76 year old building as obstacles. I can’t help but feel it is because I work hard to provide a curious environment. I’ve built a reputation with my administrators and they support and encourage that my use of technology, philosophy, and non-traditional content. I know how fortunate I am to have the freedom to teach this way. I don’t blame teachers who try to teach within the system society has built. I don’t blame underpaid and overworked teachers. I do blame a society that continues to starve schools of the funds and resources they need to be innovative. I do hold society accountable for stressing the importance of compliance and career focus over curiosity and compassion.
We might have killed curiosity, but if so, we were only it by reflecting the values of our society.
Thank you for your thought provoking blog post. I’m a new reader, and I enjoyed thinking this through with you. I look forward to your next post!
Ken Wallace says
I agree with much of what you have to say here. We can do a better job of promoting curiosity inside and outside of schools. That said, I don’t think great teaching and learning is mutually exclusive from helping students find a viable career path, and the evidence is overwhelming that we have to pay better attention to this equation in an era when high school graduation rates are at an all-time US high and when we continue to produce more college graduates than at any time in our history. Consider these big data trends that ought to get a lot more of our attention:
1. Today’s young (those born 1980 and after) are the first generation of Americans NOT predicted to earn more than their parents. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/opinion/the-american-dream-quantified-at-last.html?_r=2
2. For the first time in the Modern Era, living with parents is the most common living arrangement for 18-34 year olds. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/05/24/for-first-time-in-modern-era-living-with-parents-edges-out-other-living-arrangements-for-18-to-34-year-olds/
3. Even for those earning college degrees the underemployment rate for recent grads is 45%, and the mean debt is $37,172, higher for Hispanic and African American students.
I do this as a Superintendent, so my views are from the perspective of someone who has to understand what happens to our students once they leave us, and I’m doing it for a very diverse population that includes extremely affluent students as well as increasingly poor and first generation high school graduates and college attendees. I care deeply about compelling instruction that is based on authentic inquiry and student agency to investigate and solve authentic problems, but I also feel a moral obligation to do more than send kids to colleges that they can’t afford for degrees that often lead to high underemployment rates. We have developed an Individual Career Plan to provide every student a relevant career experience before they graduate so that we can increase the chances of students following passions in a responsible way that is informed by economics and job distribution data. Our parents (and students) want this, and I think they deserve it. Most of the jobs in the current US economy DO NOT require a college degree, but we are still directing everyone there at a great cost to students individually and to our states and nation collectively.
Scott Bennett says
Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I would like to point out though that all three of your statistics are not necessarily the fault of the education system alone. Automation, a global economy, economic bubbles in the real estate, auto, and tech sectors, and the political anti-union stances of many states have produced a much slower growing job market for recent grads. Born in 1979, I’m on the edge of those demographics. I was one of those who in 2005 worked an unpaid internship busting my tail for a job that didn’t materialize. I lived at home after graduation too because the banking industry and politicians touting deregulation created the sub-prime lending mess which almost brought down the world economy. I also know I will make less than my parents did, partially because I carry much more student debt than they do. The economics of today are far different than they were for boomers. That doesn’t mean our students are the ones failing.
Miraculously, I survived a public education that wasn’t particularly oriented towards tech or the new economy. How did that happen? I would say it was because my teachers did focus heavily on developing curiosity and supporting passions. When we solely look at students as data through a cold lens of economic outcomes, we miss the point of education. We can’t beat the machines. The change is coming. We need to help students focus on what the New Yorker pointed out as cognitive nonroutine work if they are going to continue to be relevant economically (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/19/our-automated-future). That means being more human, not less. Data from tests, arbitrary cut scores, politicization of the results ensuing fights and mandates only serve to distract us from the work we should be doing. I heard a coworker the other day discussing academic malpractice not in terms of cheating, but in terms of the testing schedule set for April. I do understand and see your point of view. The pressures are very real. But 19 years out of high school, I can’t tell you what my scores or GPA was. I don’t know what my rank was either. But I can tell you loads about the people who taught me to care about people and literature and modeled curiosity and empathy and passion on the daily.
I really appreciate the dialog. You make thought provoking points and help this teacher to see it from the other side of the desk.
Garreth Heidt says
This reminds me of an article that I read a long time ago. Teachers need to be curious as well: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2004/09/08/02banner.h24.html
Līhau G. says
Thank you for sharing this article. I agree with your point of view. I believe that students model their teachers, and if teachers arenʻt showing curiosity, students wonʻt either. I often find that my students are much more willing to take part in an activity when I fully engage in the activity myself. It even extends as far as dress code – if the teachers follow the dress code, the students are more wiling to follow the dress code as well.
This article was enlightening. I do feel that as educators, we are not encouraged to be experts in our field, and that self view of complacency is then spread throughout the community. We as teachers do need to use curiosity to seek self improvement, but there also needs to be shift in public perception – on the value of teachers, and on their professional responsibilities and status.
Thank you for sharing,
Olivia Marques says
This is such an important point. It’s sad that I can only think of my eager-to-learn 5th graders showing true curiosity during science and social studies – the subjects that are losing time in classrooms all over the country. How can we as educators spark curiosity in reading and math? I wonder if this has less to do with the content and more to do with the pressure on teachers in literacy and math instruction. I know I am way more focused on the data of it when teaching reading and math. When I get to social studies or science, I throw the rules out the window and make it fun and interesting! Definitely something to think about!
Christina (eduinreviewblog) says
A very famous saying, “Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with.”
And accept my gratitude for this interesting reading. Bundle of thanks
Garreth Heidt says
Follow the work of two HS seniors as they design ways to increase curiosity as a prime motivator in the classroom, wherever that “classroom” may be.