Monday, February 22, 2016

Curiosity; the Acorn of Inquiry

Many years ago when I was a graduate student at the University if Illinois one of my professors, the renowned Dr. Lilian Katz, gave an in-class assignment in which we had to rank 26 characteristics of elementary school students. The task was to put them in order from most typical to least typical based on our experiences working with children in the K - 6 age range.

The most vivid and enduring memory from that activity is how differently different students ranked one particular characteristic; curiosity. Some of us ranked it as high as 1 or 2 while others ranked it as low as 24 or even last at 26. Being graduate students in an Education program all 20 or so of us had experience working with children so it wasn't as if we had randomly ranked the characteristics. Once we started discussing why we thought this had happened a remarkable pattern emerged. There was almost complete correlation between grade level experience and ranking of the curiosity characteristic. All the teachers who taught kindergarten or first grade ranked it 1, 2 or 3 while all those, like me, who taught fourth, fifth or sixth grade ranked it 24, 25 or 26. Second and third grade teachers ranked it somewhere in the middle. After a lively discussion we came to the somewhat depressing but probably true conclusion that our school system and our teaching do little to foster, or even maintain our students' curiosity about the world in which they live. They enter kindergarten with a total sense of curiosity about the world and by the time they get to 6th grade we've completely destroyed it and replaced it with the search for the right answer or doing things the right way, so to speak.

I was reminded of this experience yesterday as I watched my grandson, Lachlan, playing with different things. One of them was a set of colored, wooden stacking rings of different sizes. First he tipped them off the post and then put them back on in a random order. He then held the stack of rings close to his face and pulled them off one by one running them over his face and through his hair. He did it gently and carefully savoring the feel of each ring as it bumped over his nose and through his hair. He then dropped each ring behind his head and watched it roll across the floor. His curiosity about the things he plays with is inspiring. He wants to know, to find out, to learn and to discover the world around him. Later, he was eating a circular piece of provolone cheese by tearing it into strips. As he did so he was mesmerized by the way it came apart in  long, even  strips,  

And, quite amazingly, he does this all without standards, performance criteria, blended learning, grades or any of the other verbal paraphernalia we have designed in the name of learning and education.


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