So I have this idea, which I think shakes my teaching philosophy to its core, and maybe yours as well — that we should teach middle school kids how to be curious.
See, somewhere along the way curiosity stopped being cool. I’m note sure what happened, but my seventh graders and to some extent my ninth graders have stopped being interested in what they’re learning. The goal is just to learn what the teachers tell them to learn, do the homework, get the worksheet done, and then… boom! Off to learn how to beat the current level on the video game. Or work on the novel. (One of my kids is working on a novel. The most non-into-school kid imaginable. Huh??)
So I asked my kids to pick a chapter. Something they found interesting. Something they liked. Something that interested them. Here are their picks. They’re all over the map: Japan, the Reformation, ancient Rome, the American civilizations like the Maya and the Azteca, and me with my interest in southern and eastern Africa. (Why? I’ve never been there.)
How do you fake curiosity? Well, curiosity is mostly manifested in questions. So rather than have them read the text and write answers to the questions, I had them read a part of the book they chose themselves, and ask the questions. Twenty five of them tonight. They also have to star or otherwise mark the three they regard as the ‘best’. We’ll talk about the criteria for ‘best questions’ tomorrow, but really there aren’t bad questions as long as the kid goes deep enough in answering it. Toyota says you should ask 5 Whys to get to the bottom of the real answer; maybe that’s the pattern I’ll adopt: “find 5 whys to support your answer. When you get an answer right away, anyway.”
In the next few days I’ll show them how to turn questions into Google key words, and one kid already has this idea that he’s going to use Answer.com or some such to ask his questions.
I’m less clear how to generate the next set of questions from this initial round, or how to get them involved in writing about what they’re learning, or how to assess them. But at the moment, we’re having more fun and learning more than we were when they were just filling out worksheets. And now I can focus on teaching them study and research skills to find out the answers to things which genuinely interest them. I hope.