Curiosity killed the… wait, what?

 

The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels (2017), aptly subtitled 10 Structures for Teaching with Student-Directed Inquiry, is one of those professional books you can read on the beach, in a busy airport, on the train, or anywhere else, really. It’s practical and conversational, with plenty of real-life examples, photographs of classrooms, and handy sketchnotes at the end of each chapter.

Read this book: If you are a lower or middle school librarian looking to boost curiosity and wonder at your school, wanting to let students take control and run with their own interests and ideas rather than focusing on the same old research project (is it birds this year? or animals in general?), grab a friendly and collaborative teacher partner and read this book together! This study guide will be gold as you’re reading together. 

Having read this book recently for our Board Book discussion at the AISL conference last week, I’m left with so many nuggets of wisdom and little ideas to embrace students’ curiosity. Here are a few that I’d like to implement ASAP:

Idea: Why don’t I have a Wonder Wall in the library (Google it with a -oasis unless you’d rather listen to the song…)?! The setup is easy — a blank bulletin board with the words “Wonder Wall” and sticky notes or slips of paper for students to tack on. That’s such a simple way to validate and explore students’ questions!

Idea: I feel similarly about Genius Hour — this seems like old news, but I’ve finally found a way to make it work in our lower school library. We have scheduled time throughout the year for Friday afternoon classes that generally last three weeks called Interest Groups. I’ve led Library Helpers, Finger Knitting, Book Budgets, and a variety of other crafty and library-related groups, but I’ve never tried a Genius Hour. And this would be PERFECT for this structured time because students can choose to be in the group and spend their afternoons exploring and researching anything they wanted to! I love having small group research help time and feel like this would be such a natural way to support students.

Nugget: This tip (followed by an example) really made me reflect on my own practice:

With inquiry projects we sometimes spend too much time setting things up. And if we slow down too much, kids can lose energy and start complaining.

Though the example in the book seemed entirely too-smooth-to-be-true (in less than 5 minutes, students wrote down what they already know about the topic and questions they have), I know that one of my growing edges is to let go of some control and let kids start the work without so much frontloading. They’re going to stumble and make mistakes and get frustrated, and that’s okay! That’s real life!

The real struggle that I have been having with this kind of open, student-directed inquiry, especially for my young students, is that their interests are SO MUCH more complex than the texts written for them. Their questions are just not easily answered in a book at their reading level. So, we talk a lot about the research process, about the kinds of sources we have available to us and about which one would give us the best answer. We document our research process, noting the hard parts, and work towards making meaning of the information we find. This book validated that process for me, assuring me that it is, in fact, messy work, and if it’s not, then we’re not doing it right!

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