Curious Classroom Book Study: Demonstrate Your Own Curiosity

Thursday, 13 July 2017


I hope you enjoyed the first two chapters of The Curious Classroom by Harvey "Smokey" Daniels and have a few new ideas that you might want to try in your classroom.  

Listed below is a super quick summary of the introduction for those who are interested. 

Beyond that you will find my thoughts on chapter 1.  I tried to keep it real practical, sharing only ideas I've "tried" and "want to try" with this first structure.  Chapter 2 and each succeeding chapter will come in a separate post!  Please don't be shy - share your thoughts, ideas, questions, etc. in the comments at the bottom!



The introduction begins with the two questions most often heard from teachers interested in trying inquiry:
How do I find time to try out kid-driven inquiries?
What are some quick and safe structures for getting started?

The author goes on to describe a classroom "already in progress" and to share how these teachers have "flipped their thinking." "Where these educators used to worry about covering the material, they now plan how to evoke kids' curiosity. When they once focused on assigning and assessing finished products, they now teach thinking: problem posing, researching, vetting, corroborating, analyzing, criticizing, and presenting."

These teachers have two "watchwords," which alludes to the role of the inquiry teacher:
1)  Honor kids' own questions.
2)  Make the required curriculum into questions kids can't resist investigating.

Easier said than done - right? The author then goes on to talk about the small steps the teachers took in "dipping their toe in the water" of inquiry.  I think it is important to remember that we can start small as well as consider the idea that maybe not everything needs (or even should) be taught through inquiry.

Inquiry Approach vs. Coverage Approach

In this section we get an overview of what is meant by student-directed inquiry and receive a "quick sketch" of the teacher's role as well as how children are viewed.  Since this reads somewhat like a list of beliefs, this is a great checkpoint for teachers considering trying an inquiry approach, to see if it is a good fit for them.  

Some of my favorite quotes from this section include:
"We build curriculum from kids' wonders and then back-map projects to relevant standards." Love that term "back-map!"

"We start small and build kids' inquiry muscles with lots of practice. Some of our projects are short, lasting five minutes, twenty minutes, an hour, a couple of days." Think small steps!

"We actively honor kids' curiosity all day long." It's a switch in thinking on the teacher's part!

"We take on new, non-expert roles in the classroom, such as lead learner, research partner, coach, and facilitator." Love thinking of myself as the "lead learner!" 

How Do We Assess Student-Driven Inquiry?

"Inquiry teachers can often be seen with a clipboard or tablet in their hands, practicing narrative assessment - writing down in natural, not numerical, language what kids are thinking and doing." This section gives some great ideas for teacher and student tools for assessment and also suggests conference prompts if you are worried about "saying the right thing:"
These include:
What are you working on?
How is it going?
How can I help?

Chapter 1

In This Chapter

We've all had those moments when you are writing in front of the children or telling them a story from your own life and you look out at their little faces and see that they are really engaged!

This chapter encourages you to share your thoughts, ideas, stories, and curiosities with children so they will get to know you and see you as a curious learner!

Included are several examples of how teachers have done this in their classroom through sharing a personal struggle and goal, talking about your reading, showing how you take a risk, and demonstrating inquiry as a team.

What I've Tried

The stories in the book opened my eyes to some new avenues for demonstrating curiosity. When I think about ways I might already be doing this, I think of "wondering aloud" as I read and write in front of children as well as being on the lookout for opportunities to bring nature into the classroom as these "treasures" often come with a personal story.

Like the day I was out running and found a wooly bear caterpillar in the middle of the road. I carefully prepared a "home" for it in hopes that we could watch its transformation.  The story went in a different direction when too much rain got into the air holes and well..... you can imagine what happened!

Or the night my husband accidentally hit a baby rabbit with a weed wacker and brought it home in his attempt to save it.  This story didn't end well either!

Then there was the worm I found on my mother's driveway right in the middle of our study on soil and decomposition.  I'm happy to say that he lived happily ever after in the compost we built for him!

While I shared these stories and curiosities with the children, I realize now I could have brought them in on the research end a little more!  In each case, I had to find out how best to care for the animal.  I did this on my own, and missed some great opportunities for learning.

What I'd Like to Try  

One of the illustrations in the book (page 4) shows how one teacher infuses inquiry into the morning message.  In the body of the letter she tells how she was "searching for her alligator question" and wasn't able to find the answer.  She then places some related literature on the ledge of the easel, creating an invitation for children to join in her research.  

Here are some examples of ways I might use the morning message to spark inquiry:

Did you know that today is National Elephant Day? What do you know about elephants? (spark an interest)  
I noticed that the plants are getting too big for their pots. What should we do next? (solve a problem)
I wonder why there were so many worms on the sidewalk today? (share a wonder) 
I saw a double rainbow on my way to school today. Did you see it too? (highlight a shared experience)

Tanika found out some new information about how birds fly that she's going to share with you today. Here is a clue! (involve the children)
Crayola just decided to remove the color Dandelion from its box. What do you think of this? (elicit opinions) 

Your Turn

Thanks for stopping by!


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