New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

Question Mark Cookies

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. 

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

What could you do as a school leader to hack at some new possibilities for curiosity- and inquiry-driven student learning…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

4 Responses to “New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity”

  1. This is why I love science. Pretty hard to find students who won’t have questions if you present them with an interesting problem or situation. This week I’m hunting for asteroids with one class, doing video analysis of projectile motion with another, and experimenting with making bio-plastics in a third.
    For those who might be looking for inspiration for Math (and some Science) related ideas, if you aren’t already reading Dan Meyer, check out his “101 Questions” http://www.101qs.com/ and blog http://blog.mrmeyer.com/

  2. Last year I was surprised by the limited curiosity I observed in adults, which elicited a lot of wonderings. As a leader, I worry about the curiosity of adults, because we should be modeling this practice for our youth. Ultimately, I decided my #oneword2018 would be curious. I talk more about my plan here: http://psumurphette.com/2018/01/02/is-curiosity-the-exception-or-the-norm-my-oneword2018/

  3. This is an area that my school is beginning to push on. We are a PBL school and value play and student directed learning. There is fine line when it comes to still ensuring student readiness for those standardized test that we are trying to navigate. Any suggestions?

    • Ignore invalid measurements and do what’s right for the students.
      Imagine if we allowed medicine to be run the way that we do education. Would you be fine with doing things that we know harm the patient to get the correct scores on tests that do not reflect their actual health?

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