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.

Learning Leaders: Find Your Joy in Leisure Reading

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

The famous Charles Dickens quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” refers to both the French Revolution and my first year as a Ph.D. student at William and Mary. This year provided me with meaningful personal and professional growth that I never anticipated.  The first anxiety-filled day of each class was saturated with requirements, explanations of assignments, and seemingly impossible reading lists. I felt like I had been thrown into an extremely difficult culture that provided no time to become acclimated. Despite the initial impossibility of each class assignment list, each semester becomes easier to manage. In a word, Ph.D. means “sacrifice.” It demands late nights and less and less time with friends and family to survive. My initial frustration and self-doubt morphed into self-growth, and all the sacrifice was worth it at the end.

Summer is finally here, and I am no longer committed to a schedule that consumes my time with academia. What will I do with my free time? I will read; I will read for pleasure. This epiphany came to me when I realized I had read the entire May 2018 edition of Educational Leadership in one sitting. I was not compelled by guidelines of an assignment, therefore, I lost track of time while reading each article. Sure, I annotated sections that were thought-provoking, but it was what I chose to do. I became reacquainted with a familiar stranger. For the past nine months, required reading coupled with completing written and oral-speaking assignments temporarily halted my reading for pleasure. Now, I have the opportunity to resume this passion, and I am excited.

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As administrators pleasure reading is often not a routine. We become bombarded with pouring ourselves into our students, staff, and community, and we tend to neglect feeding our appetite for personal and professional growth. Our blazing fire of motivation extinguishes as the school year progresses. However, a great way to rekindle our drive is to read. Reading helps to replenish and to stimulate, setting the stage for novelty and ingenuity. For example, as I read the latest edition of Educational Leadership titled, Bolstering the Teacher Pipeline, Herrmann’s article, Rethinking Teacher Recruitment, triggered in me a “wonder,” a “want,” and a “will.”

  • I wondered how might innovative practices, such as “schools offering internships through which younger college students could shadow teachers, work closely with K-12 students, and support enrichment activities” (p. 21), be implemented in more school divisions, with the hopes of attracting a wider range of candidates.
  • I wanted to learn more about hiring and retaining millennial teachers. Abrams’ article, What Matters to Millennial Teachers: A guide to inspiring, supporting, and retaining the newest generation of educators, provided 6 principles that all administrators would find helpful as they enter the recruiting season.
  • I will share the article, To Diversify the Teacher Workforce, Start Early, with peers in human resources and high school principals. This piece presented by Goings, Brandehoff, and Bianco discusses the power in grow-your-own model and 6 guiding principles to recruiting underrepresented community members into education.

Needless to say, reading something I chose to read for less than an hour resulted in an abundance of learning and pragmatic approaches to improvement. (By the way, I strongly recommend reading this month’s edition!)

The end is near for another school year. I am sure you are exhausted and in need of a well-deserved vacation. As part of self-care, I encourage you to read. Reading literature that piques your interest. If you are like me, you start books but never finish them due a long list of demands. However, this summer I have committed 30 minutes a day to reading. For some of us this time will be the only professional development we receive, so let’s do it! Practice what we encourage our students and staff to do. Reading is a magical portal.

May books always be with you.

On my shelf this summer:

  1. The Principal 50: Critical Leadership for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence

Author: Barati Kafele

  1. Closing the Attitude Gap

Author Barati Kafele

Igniting the Joy of Leisure Reading

Guest post by Blanqui Valledor, York County School Division

In my dream classroom, my students would instantly gravitate to and acknowledge the brilliance of the piece of literature I assigned them to read. We would have in-depth discussions, and they would beg for more insightful pieces of text.  That was the dream, not the reality.

It is a struggle to get students to read and get excited over texts when we are constantly competing with short synopses of text found on the web.  “This is boring. Why are there so many words? Why do I need to read this?” became chanting mantras in my classroom.  I quickly realized that no matter how creatively or enthusiastically I explained the importance of reading and discussion, they could not empathize with the positive power I experienced whenever I read.

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Enter leisure reading.  In 2014, the International Reading Association published a study on the importance of leisure reading, also known as self-selected, independent reading. According to the 2014 study, “leisure reading enhances students’ reading comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others, as well as their self-confidence as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and positive attitudes toward reading” (International Reading Association). Out of my need to share my love of reading, I incorporated leisure reading into my curriculum. I had nothing to lose.

At first, leisure reading was met with resistance: “What if I don’t like the book, do I have to continue reading it?” “No,” was always my answer; “I don’t finish books that I don’t like, why should I force you?” I stocked my classroom with a variety of text – young adult, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and best sellers. I read while they read in class.  I shared what I was reading and questions I had, and soon after others began sharing their experiences with the books.  From their interests, we discussed topics presented in the text which evolved into creating text sets as our mode of research.  The chanting mantras I heard for years began to fade and were replaced with ‘You have to read this book!’

Incorporating leisure reading into my curriculum was the best pedagogical decision I have ever made.  By allowing my students to select their text, I have been able to understand my students better.  They have introduced me to new worlds outside the traditional literary canon, and I have reciprocated their enthusiasm by introducing them to “classics” based on their interests. By the end of the school year, the majority of my students have read anywhere from eight to ten different books – more than I could ever accomplish with them in class.

Student Testimonials:

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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Meeting Nancy Wright Beasley

Last month at the Monroe Scholars Book Award Luncheon, SURN Executive Director Jan Rozzelle met Nancy Wright Beasley, author of Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust. Beasley’s book tells the story of Jewish families who survived the Holocaust, going into hiding with the help of another family. It is a powerful story based on memoirs and personal interviews. An exhibit at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond retells the story. Both the book and the exhibit are highly recommended!

N.W. Beasley

 

Diane Sweeney, Coming Soon!

SURN is pleased to have Diane Sweeney, author of Student Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals and Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, join us for our Leadership Academy this summer on June 22-23, 2015.

Diane has been a national education consultant since 1999.  She taught and coached in the Denver Public School system before serving as a program officer at the Public Education and Business Coalition in Denver.  She is a well-respected educator who focuses on coaching and professional development.

Student Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals (Corwin Press, 2010) focuses on school-based coaching designed to impact student learning.  Professional development should focus on how to best support teachers and collaborate with them in order to design successful and targeted instruction.  The book focuses on the critical role of principal in developing and sustaining a culture of learning.

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Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level (Corwin Press, 2013) is the follow-up to Sweeney’s 2010 best-selling book and focuses on the principles and tools of student-centered coaching in order to meet the challenges in middle and high schools.  Coaching focused on the student can allow the coach to provide feedback that has a direct impact on student achievement.

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For more information on Diane, please visit www.dianesweeney.com.  For more information on SURN’s Leadership Academy and how to sign up, please visit our website for more information or email us surn@wm.edu.

Review of The Wrap-Up List

The Wrap-Up List is a great YA book told from the point of view of Gabriela.  Gabriela lives in a modern-day town where one percent of the fatalities happen in a very strange way, called “departing.”  Gabriela’s group of friends is fascinated with the concept, until Gabriela receives her own death letter.

The book has an interesting mystery to explore in this alternate world where Gabriela and her friends must deal with first loves, a country going to war, and the idea of dying so young.

I recommend this thoughtful and engaging book to readers in grades 7-12.

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National Library Week

Celebrate National Library Week in style with this fun new video!

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Please click on the image to watch the video

Review of Dear Teen Me

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Book review by Julie K. Marsh, Graduate Assistant

Dear Teen Me (DTM) caught me off guard in such a happy way.  I enjoy reading about writers and artists and the paths they took to where they are now.  DTM took this a step further by including advice from a group of young adult authors to their teenage selves.  The stories they share, some in narrative text and others in more visual ways, are about insecurities, first crushes, friendship, love, bullying, and everything in-between.

The letters range from heartbreaking to hilarious and truly give a glimpse into the authors’ young lives full of curiosity, passion, and teenage angst.  These glimpses offer the reader a way to hear the authors’ internal voices and the ways most of them were able to incorporate their early life trials into their creative work.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to both young and old.  I think young adults will welcome the experience of sharing their current thoughts and feelings with an adult who became a successful, creative person even though they experienced the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  Adults will also enjoy the book and have the opportunity to reconnect with their younger selves in order to reflect on where they were and how far they have come in their own lives.  DTM truly was a wonderful reading experience, one I think we can all enjoy!

And the winner is…

It is official!  To Kill a Mockingbird is our winner!  Mindset came in second place and Chicka-chicka-boom-boom came in third place.

Thank you to everyone who voted!  We look forward to another March Reading Madness next year.

The Official Bracket Based On Your Input:

MRM March 31st

 

 Click to Zoom

More Information on the Books:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Mindset

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom