Tag Archives: inquiry

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.]

Unwilling to grasp the instructional implications of kids’ differences and complexity

I have strong feelings about what kids should learn, which is why I’d put them in charge of their own educations. Experience assures me they’ll get where they need to go, and do so more efficiently than will otherwise be possible. Experience also tells me that won’t happen as long as they’re fenced in by a random mix of courses required because they’ve always been required, by courses based on elitist conceits, by courses shaped by unexamined assumptions. The core’s boundaries are far too narrow to accommodate the collective genius of adolescents.

Kids bring to the curriculum vast differences – differences in gender, maturity, personality, interests, hopes, dreams, abilities, life experiences, situation, family, peers, language, ethnicity, social class, culture, probable and possible futures, and certain indefinable qualities, all combined in dynamic, continuously evolving ways so complex they lie beyond ordinary understanding.

Today’s reformers seem unable or unwilling to grasp the instructional implications of those differences and that complexity. They treat kids as a given, undifferentiated except by grade level, with the core curriculum the lone operative variable. Just standardize and fine-tune the core, they insist, and all will be well.

That’s magical thinking, and it’s dumping genius on the street.

Don’t tell me I’m naïve, that high school kids can’t be trusted with that much responsibility, or that they’re too dumb to know what to do with it. Would it take them awhile to get used to unaccustomed autonomy? Sure. Would they suspect that the respect being shown them was faked and test it out? Of course. Would they at first opt for what they thought was Easy Street? You can count on it.

Eventually, however, their natural curiosity and the desire to make better sense of experience would get the better of them, and they’d discover that Easy Street connected directly to all other streets, and that following it was taking them places they had no intention of going, or even knew existed.

Marion Brady via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/22/why-all-high-school-courses-should-be-elective

What if we removed the course schedule?

What if we removed the passive course-to-course drudgery of the school day? What if there was no schedule? What if students were left with a list of coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans, and we just waited to see what they could do? What if teachers were seen as mentors for projects designed to help students meet those benchmarks?

Shawn Cornally via http://www.good.is/posts/why-it-s-time-to-eliminate-class-schedules

When children are simply taught

studies have found that when children are simply taught, they don’t explore and test multiple hypotheses

[In one study of preschoolers,] an experimenter held a toy that had four tubes. Each tube did something different — for instance, one lit up and one made a squeaking sound.

In one case, the experimenter accidentally made the toy squeak by bumping into it and then left the room. The children experimented with the toy and figured out the three other features.

But when the experimenter made the toy squeak on purpose and then handed it to a child, he or she simply repeated what the experimenter did and never explored the toy’s other features.

via http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/science/scientific-inquiry-among-the-preschool-set.html

You’ve got 6 hours of student effort per day. What will you ask of it?

ScienceWe want to uncover what propels sustained energy in all students regardless of peers, parents, poverty, or tenure.  What occurs systemically that, done differently, could quickly galvanize students?  The resource available tomorrow morning is six hours of student effort.  What will you ask of it?

First, get an outcome picture clear.  It’s not of students passing a test (only to discard it on exiting their “final.”)  It’s not students getting A’s on assignments they never look at again.  It’s not teachers “preparing them for the exam” with review questions that formerly would have been teacher-complicit cheating. The outcome picture instead captures a competence and an attitude about it. In your mind’s eye, assemble a roomful of students each of whom is enthusiastic about science;  who willingly do more than required, who are more interested in the work they do than in the grade they receive.

Running that movie as what we want instruction to produce, we inquire what goes on in students’ minds.  What can we reasonably presume occurs there?  What conditions underlie that scene to generate interest and commitment?

I submit that only one cause is strong enough. An idea seizes their imagination, and they identify personally with its pursuit. Their idea fuses the tools of science with a mental purpose, and the two mesh smoothly.

John Jensen via http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/why-kids-dont-master-science-teaching-science-that-sticks

Image credit: Science, from Bigstock