Creating a Culture of Inquisitiveness in the Classroom

Chapter Three of Barell’s book, asks the reader to pause and ponder —

My responses are below but I’d love to hear others thoughts and suggestions.

How do you go about creating a culture within a classroom, and within a school, that fosters inquiry?

  • listen to questions – use active listening techniques
  • encourage students to listen to each other’s questions and responses and to ask each other questions before they ask the teacher. I want them to view each other as possible human resources not just adults.
  • set expectations that no questions are to be rubbished as ‘dumb questions’.
  • invite thoughtfulness – stop and think or write/think, envision

What have you done to enable students to feel comfortable posing questions?

I’m not in a classroom, I’m in the library and I feel that libraries are the ultimate classroom of inquiry So I :

  • try to be to be curious myself. If a child talks to me about a topic (eg. sharks lose 200 teeth each year) I like to say “I wonder why that is? I wonder how …. I guess I wonder out loud a lot
  • admit I don’t know things and then wonder out loud where the best place might be to look (in fact I often ‘don’t know’ even when I do know). I want to encourage them to think about the resources and which might be most useful for the question at hand.
  • encourage them to report back and fill me in on anything I don’t know about that they find the answer to — then I can give them some positive feedback about their search efforts.
  • began to place non-fiction books in the picture book display racks. Little kids can get a lot out of the pictures even if they can’t read the words and these are popular item for prep boys to take out. They would never go looking on the stacks for them at first. Now they will come in and ask if we have more on trucks, motorbikes, dinosaurs, volcanoes, tornadoes …. they venture into the non-fiction a lot more now.
  • purchase and leave out odd facts books like Guiness World Book of Records, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wacky but True magazines etc.
  • teach them how to use the catalogue to search for resources as young as possible.

Curious about Inquiry-based Learning

Curiousity may have killed a cat or two but it lies at the heart of inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is also a foundation block of our primary school’s curriculum. As a TL-under-construction, my personal growth priority this year (apart from my formal study) is to get to know the school’s curriculum inside out so that my contributions to curriculum planning and teacher collaboration can be of higher quality. I’ve spent the term-break delving deeply into inquiry-based learning. As I cruised the internet tracking down articles, good examples of inquiry-based learning in other schools and names of people who are leaders in this field, I came across the American Museum of Natural History‘s excellent educational website and school programs and then John Barell and the many books he’s written. After reading the sample pages, I purchased Barell’s Developing More Curious Minds for the school’s professional development resource collection. I hope the staff read and get as much out of it as I have. Yes, his point of view is very American and obviously the book was written in the 9/11 aftermath, but the book’s premises are still very applicable.

A teacher turned educational consultant for the American Museum of Natural History, Barell believes many students have become too passive in their learning, accepting information and ‘facts’ as presented in textbooks, classes and the media. Students need to treat their life as a never-ending expedition, where they and their teachers are both the explorers and guides.

Barell invites the reader of this book to actively read, to pause and reflect on questions he poses, to journal one’s thoughts and responses (journaling is one of his mentioned recommended practices).

In the first chapter, A Culture of Inquisitiveness, Barell presents four recent events and their circumstances: a bonfire accident at Texas A & M (tertiary studies institution), NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the Challenger explosion and the FBI handling of Zacarias Moussaioui’s case (one of the 9/11 bombers). He poses the following questions. (The responses are my own).

Q. Given the events just described and those of September11, 2001 … do you see patterns in some segments of society?

A. Organizations usually have a hierarchy of authority and it may not be acceptable and/or tolerated that those farther down the line question their superiors. This culture often exists in business, law enforcement, the army, medicine, and in educational institutions.

Q. How would you explain the seeming lack of a culture of inquisitiveness among some of us?

A. I think this may start right back at home when we are very small. Parents may not listen, may not want to answer the million questions kids ask, may respond with “because I said so”. Questions may be viewed as tiring, time-consuming or challenging. This attitude continues on in many schools with the attitude that teachers are not to be questioned or challenged.

Q. Now, why do you think it is important for us to foster and develop inquisitiveness in our children and students? Why do we want them curious about the natural world, life in our democracy and their personal and professional lives?

A. To seek answers and to be curious means that the child is thinking, observing and not just believing. There are a lot of people in the world who would like to be believed (without good reason) for their own purposes. Decisions based on belief rather than evidence can leave one person or a small group of people in a very powerful position — this is when information becomes restricted and individuals can no longer think independently because they have no access to facts.

After some more thought on this question, I also think that if children are not encouraged in their inquisitiveness they will grow up not caring or having any interest in what’s going on around them. People who don’t care are in danger or put others in danger — a good example being apathy towards the environment. Western Society is so removed from the natural environment that ignorance of it breeds apathy. The more you know about something the more you care.

Part of developing a culture of inquisitiveness, I believe, is to hear what others think about questions and issues.

Please feel free to comment. =)

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