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One of the joys of early childhood is that it’s when children are at their most curious. When children start their schooling everything is new and exciting. That makes them inherently curious. So, how do we take a young child’s curiosity and leverage that across the grade levels? How do we kindle curiosity with students who think they’ve learned all they need to learn?

To support all students and make learning equitable, the academic environment needs to recognize, teach, and support behaviors that promote curiosity. This means that the teacher must:

  • Make specific behaviors known to all students.
  • Acknowledge when students are exhibiting these behaviors.
  • Nurture these behaviors in order to advance learning.

Behaviors that Promote Curiosity

Ponder Ideas — Scholars think about big ideas and problems. They ponder what they are learning and make connections between ideas.

Take Risks — Scholars are willing to try things that are new and difficult. They are not afraid of making mistakes or “looking stupid.”

Be Prepared — Scholars are prepared. They come to school ready to learn with all the tools they need for the job.

Strive for Excellence — Scholars actively participate in classes, projects, and groups. They take pride in their work and strive for excellence.

Thirst for Knowledge — Scholars understand that no matter how much they know, there is always more to learn. They have a thirst for knowledge.

Save Ideas — Scholars keep track of ideas and information. They find ways to organize their ideas and save unfinished work for later.

Examine Multiple Perspectives — Scholars look at questions and information in different ways and from different points of view.

Persevere — Scholars persevere. They exercise their minds and learn to stick to their goals, even when the work gets hard or frustrating.

Consult Multiple Resources — Scholars look at a variety of different resources and different types of resources.

Set Goals — Scholars know that goals are important. They set short-term and long-term goals for their learning and in life.

Curiosity in Action

Can all students learn these behaviors and use them to improve their learning? The answer is a resounding yes!

How? Let’s start at the beginning and ask a kindergarten teacher—Miss Kocourek—how she teaches her students to leverage their curiosity to support their learning.

“I spend a lot of energy throughout the school year preparing my children to be academic students. They need to learn how to be a productive member of a class—that is, working hard as an individual scholar as well as helping others do the same.

“They must understand that school is about learning and growing every day. They must understand that they have a role in the classroom for their own learning and for the other students. I don’t ever tell my students they are smart. I make sure to tell them the behaviors they displayed that will lead to growth as a scholar. I tell them that I will ask a lot of them, but I will always make sure they are successful if they try.

“My children must not only ask and answer questions, but they must also provide feedback on these behaviors. I have them listed on this chart, and we discuss them every day. When we review our learning each day, we refer to our curiosity chart. We talk about how those behaviors help us as learners. We share behaviors we observed and scholarly behaviors we displayed. I make sure I model how to give and receive positive feedback. Today’s lesson lent itself well to practicing this, and everyone feels successful. The child getting the compliment is recognized for their behavior. The one giving the compliment is reminded of the behavior.”

That’s what Miss Kocourek has her students do. Let’s hear from one of them about how

“Miss K says we have to help each other and tell each other when we see that we are doing good things for learning. Then we get to tell everyone else. It’s fun to share.”

What kind of good things for learning do you usually see?

“I see people share. I see people try hard. I see people being good listeners. I see people helping one another. This is what curious people do. Miss K taught us that word. It means we are interested in learning.”

What We Learned in Kindergarten,…

Maybe it’s true that everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten after all. The strategies Miss Kocourek is using in her kindergarten class could be used successfully at any grade level:

  • Spend time teaching curiosity and a student’s role in the class.
  • Make and post a behaviors chart and review it regularly.
  • Give (and model) specific positive feedback when students display scholarly behaviors.
  • Have students use the chart to acknowledge their own behaviors and those of their peers.
  • Use age-appropriate rewards to reinforce scholarly behaviors.

…We Can Take with Us as We Move Up the Grades

Here are a few more examples from higher grade levels, which show how some other teachers have put the same strategies into practice.

From a fifth-grade student:
“My teacher has a chart on the wall that tells about curiosity. Each month we get to choose a behavior we want to focus on. At the end of each week, we write at least three ways we exhibited the behavior and how it helped us learn. If we do that, we get a free homework pass. I wish all my teachers did this because I do most of them all of the time. They really help me in learning.”

From a seventh grader:
“I like when my teacher, Mr. Balsamo, talks about the behaviors that make someone smarter. This makes me think that I can do almost anything if I put my mind to it. I used to think that a person was either good or bad at something. For example, math is hard for me. But there are things I can do for myself to help me learn better. These are the behaviors Mr. Balsamo is talking about.”

From a high-school geometry teacher and physical education coach:
“As a coach, I am constantly telling my team when they are doing well. They need this encouragement if they are going to get better. I run alongside them and tell them specifically what they are doing well, especially when it is something they are just beginning to perfect. It never occurred to me to do the same thing in my geometry class. I don’t run up and down the rows, but I am more open about giving encouragement to my math students. This made me realize that good teaching is about good coaching.”

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • That to support all students and make learning equitable, the academic environment needs to recognize, teach, and support behaviors that promote curiosity.
  • The classroom and teacher must make specific behaviors known to all students, acknowledge when students are exhibiting these behaviors, and nurture these behaviors in order to advance learning.
  • The strategies for promoting curiosity that can be used successfully at any grade level.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

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