Nurturing Curiosity in Our Students and Our Teachers

By Sarah P. Hylton, M.Ed., SURN

We all want students who are inquisitive and engaged, and the 6th annual Joy of Children’s Literacy & Literature Conference on October 5 provided a multitude of ideas and strategies for creating classrooms that capitalize on students’ natural wonder, passion, and curiosity. Breakout sessions on using inquiry learning, teaching with images and dialectical journals, creating games and text sets, and engaging with poetry every day were bookended by keynote speakers Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Georgia Heard.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Smokey Daniels, author of The Curious Classroom, contends that our students are already curious; in fact, they come to us that way. Our task is to tap the power of their amazing and interesting questions by creating classrooms that honor this curiosity. Citing the research on curiosity, creativity, project-based learning, persistence, and genius hour, Daniels offers a “ladder” of ten key strategies for creating a culture of student-directed inquiry:

  1. Demonstrate your own curiosity
  2. Investigate ourselves and our classmates
  3. Capture and honor kids’ questions
  4. Begin the day with soft starts
  5. Check your news feed
  6. Hang out with an expert
  7. Pursue kids’ own questions with mini-inquiries
  8. Address curricular units with mini-inquiries
  9. Lean into a crisis
  10. Learn with partners and pioneers

Although Daniels’s ideas can certainly foster classrooms that engage primarily in inquiry learning, he encourages teachers to start with small commitments of time. Many of his ideas take fewer than fifteen minutes to implement, allowing teachers to start small and to continue as they see the positive results of engaging students in seeking answers to their own (and each other’s) questions.

Daniels also focuses on using images to spark student inquiry, reminding us that “text” can be interpreted broadly. He invites us to move beyond the narrow definition of text as printed words on a page and to understand that in addition to the written word, student wonder can be also be engaged by working with photographs, artwork, cartoons, diagrams, charts, and music.

If Daniels invites students to explore their curiosity by opening their minds, Georgia Heard invites them to do so by opening their hearts. Heard, author of Writing Toward Home, Awakening the Heart, Heart Maps and others, relayed her passion for helping students explore their innate sense of wonder through writing. Working from a simple heart drawn on the page, Heard urges students to explore those people, memories, places, and ideas about which they feel passionate by drawing and doodling images, supplemented by words and phrases for clarification or expansion, that resonate with them. The opportunity to slow down, to ponder their beliefs and ideas, and to commit them to paper creates the foundation upon which students build pieces of writing based on their own natural sense of wonder.

Although Daniels and Heard’s ideas center primarily on creating deeper student learning and engagement, savvy instructional leaders may well consider how to adapt Daniels and Heard’s ideas to promote a learning culture among their faculty.  Given that “today’s students urgently need to see as many thoughtful, curious, resourceful, and critical adults as they can” (Daniels, 2018, p. iii), it is incumbent upon school leaders to promote a school culture where faculty can develop their own curiosity and use it for school improvement. Design Thinking for School Leaders by Gallagher and Thordarson (2018) urges leaders to cultivate wonder intentionally by building empathy through curiosity, by routinely posing questions to all stakeholders, by honoring their creative ideas, and by designing opportunities to challenge the status quo.

Many of Daniels’s suggestions for how to honor and pursue students’ questions can easily be adapted to foster adult learning among faculty. Modeling curiosity, building relationships, honoring everyone’s ideas and questions, providing outside expertise, and engaging in research to satisfy our curiosity all promote a learning culture within our schools. Heard’s ideas, too, find a place in such leadership by inviting faculty to explore what they feel passionate about when it comes to students and teaching and learning.

Thinking about Text Sets: Considering Time and Place

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Thinking about Text Sets: Considering Time and Place

by: Kerrigan Mahoney

If you ever dutifully memorized the definition of the setting of a novel as the time and place where the story happens, and never much thought about it again, well … you have much to look forward to! Setting is the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, the eerie chirps of crickets at twilight, the sensation of a pat on the back for a job well done; the sound of hope, the smell of fear, the chills of desperation. Time and place shape identity, experiences, and social and cultural norms: both for our students and in our books. Considering how time and place impact identity and shape actions can be a powerful bridge between students’ own lives and experiences and those of the characters in a book. Centuries can become seconds when you can stand next to your character and empathize with her.

These three books put time and place, front and center:

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, the Michael Printz Award winning novel for excellence in young adult literature, links together seven vignettes that unfold on the same Scandinavian island over the course of millennia. The sensory experience of the island itself, along with the mythology and peoples tied to this place bring together each vignette in captivating and visceral storytelling. This genre-defying book will provoke discussion on the nature of time and the congruency of the human experience among students and adults alike.

“Open Mike Fridays” in Mr. Ward’s English class bring together the students of Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes much beloved Coretta Scott King Award winning novel. The first year copies of this book showed up in my classroom shelves I heard: when can I read that book? Hey, that looks like a book I actually want to read! My internal celebratory dance and accompanying whisper/shouting was immense, but I played it cool – and my students certainly took the bait. Each chapter in this story is told from the point of view of a different student in Mr. Ward’s English class along with accompanying poem shared at “Open Mike Friday.” The importance of classroom space itself and its power to help students learn through shared experiences in a positive and supportive environment cannot be undersold – in this book or your classroom.

“Where the best and brightest strive and shine and stairways lead right to cloud nine.” Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie is a celebratory picture book for all ages. The reader can dance, sing, stroll, study, and play through the masterful use of language and compelling illustrations that take us on a journey in Sugar Hill. An excellent book to think about how literary devices and figurative language can help to captivate readers; it also could be an excellent mentor text for students to write about their own neighborhood, school, classroom, time, or place that is important to them.

 

Questions to consider when thinking about setting:

  • How does the setting impact the plot, characters, or conflict?
  • In what ways does the setting evoke a sensory response?
  • How does a change in setting (or lack thereof) help to propel the story?
  • How does the combination of words and images shape your experience of the story?
  • How does the setting in this story relate to places you have been or settings you have experienced in other stories? How does this impact your understanding of the setting in this story?

 

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Cross-Curricular Connections: Using Nonfiction Texts Before, During, and After Field Trips

All students get excited when they hear the words ‘field trip’.  Here are some ideas for using this excitement to connect field trips to nonfiction literacy before, during, and after the big day!
Before:
Invite students to choose nonfiction texts to read that are related to the field trip.  Help younger students focus by providing bins of books that connect in some way to topics or themes that relate to the field trip.  Encourage older students to make predictions about what they might experience on the field trip and have them self-select nonfiction texts based upon these predictions.  Students can create text sets based upon their reading choices and present these to the class prior to the field trip.

During:
Encourage students to take a notebook and camera (or paper for sketching) to document exciting or new information or experiences while on the field trip.  Groups of students can share a camera and be giving specific things to capture while on the field trip.  Nonfiction texts such as field guides (for field trips related to science) or historical journals (for field trips related to social studies) can be shared with students prior to the field trip to model information-gathering processes and products.

After:
Upon returning to school, have students write thank-you notes to the field trip location/staff, highlighting specific field trip experiences and making connections between these experiences and one or more nonfiction texts.  Encourage students to synthesize learning from both their text sets and their field trip notes.  Have students create a written field guide based field trip experiences.  Model for students how to integrate factual information into observations using mentor texts.  Students can create a final product using drawings or photos and written or typed text depending on student preference.  Additional options include creating a multimedia field guide in PowerPoint, Prezi, or iMovie.  Encourage students to share their final projects with the class or invite parents in for a whole-class field trip debriefing.  Students can create Exhibit Guides for the location they visited by working alone or in groups.  These exhibit guides can be shared with the field trip site and with future students to build anticipation for the field trip.

Getting Started with Text Sets

Getting Started with Text Sets

Follow this link to a lesson plan on introducing text sets to students: http://surnenglishseminar.wmwikis.net/Lesson+3