The ancient Athenian philosopher Aristotle once wrote that all humans, by their very nature, desire to know. This observation is the very first sentence of his book on metaphysics. While this may seem like an obvious insight, notice the profound implications this belief about human nature has for education. If Aristotle is right, educators do not need to create a love of learning in their students or generate sources of external motivation for them. The desire to learn about the world around us is intrinsic, an undeniable aspect of our very nature. Of course, that means that when students are bored, uninterested, or demotivated in their formal education, the reason must be that something about that formal education is not connecting to their nature and that intrinsic desire to learn.
In an article for Harvard’s Usable Knowledge entitled A Curious Mind, Emily Boudreau explores the latest research on fostering that intrinsic curiosity in students. Bourdreau interviews Elizabeth Bonawitz, a cognitive scientist and researcher. For Bonawitz, curiosity is a natural response to new information, although some students may have a greater baseline for curiosity than others. In the article, Bonawitz advises that instead of trying to make kids “more curious,” educators and parents should focus on creating more moments that elicit a curious response in their students.
Below is an excerpt from the article that provides three tips for how educators can create moments that tap into the innate curiosity of their students.
3 Tips for Encouraging Curiosity in Your Students
1) Highlight Ambiguity
Children as young as 4 years old can recognize conflicting pieces of evidence and perceive a mismatch between a prediction and an actual occurrence. This discrepancy automatically sparks curiosity.
2) Recognize Knowledge Gaps
Help students recognize gaps in their current knowledge. Bonawitz and other researchers suggest that when children feel their explanation or understanding is insufficient, they will seek out additional information.
3) Generate Predictions
Get children to generate predictions and engage their assumptions about the world through tailored questions designed to direct their attention to a specific phenomenon. Bonawitz calls these kinds of questions pedagogical questions. Under this kind of scaffolding, children can actively engage in prior beliefs, see a mismatch, and direct their attention accordingly.
In addition to these insights, it’s worth considering how the innate desire to know often connects with intrinsic joy in learning. The flip side is that when formal education crowds out space for genuine curiosity, students can often go from experiencing joy in learning to frustration. With that in mind, here is an article on 7 Ways to Bring Joy to Learning Math and another article with 4 Ways to Keep Students Engaged. Finally, in my experience, there are few moments that connect curiosity, learning, and joy more deeply than reading aloud together as a family. For my thoughts on the power of reading aloud, check out this review of The Read-Aloud Family.
What are some recent moments where your student has demonstrated curiosity and experienced joy in learning? Tell us about it in the comments!