Encouraging Curiosity

Please take a moment to check in on the class feelings board if you would like.

These days, many parents and teachers alike are expressing worry that their kids are just not feeling motivated to do their schoolwork. There will always be those students who do every assignment you throw at them and still can't get enough...and then there are those students that are harder to motivate. Some of this is less a question of motivation, and more an issue of access and support. This unit, however, is about helping those others, who have lost some of their eagerness to learn.

Children are born with an innate eagerness to learn about the world. Hence the classic one million and one questions about why that we hear from toddlers and preschoolers. Unfortunately, social and emotional struggles in school and at home can cause motivation for learning to dwindle.

When children are young, they are constantly observing the world around them and investigating whatever captures their interest. One way to bring back this zest for learning is to allow for more student choice in their assignments. Student choice is not simply allowing students to choose their own topics. It is about empowering students throughout the entire learning process. This includes allowing them to be creative with their approach to assignments and their demonstration of knowledge. You model curiosity when you explore students' ideas with them, helping them to form investigative questions and engaging in meaningful discussion. Project based learning is well suited to this type of design thinking.

There is a theory in motivational psychology called 'expectancy value theory.' Basically, motivation requires both the expectation of success and belief that the work has value. I believe that without the energy and enthusiasm teachers bring to the classroom setting, student belief in the value of the work has been dipping. Add to that the fact that some students are having extra trouble obtaining the support necessary to be successful, and you have a recipe for low motivation.

Teacher Activity (option 1: PBL): If you are interested in transforming your final unit for the school year into more of a project based learning approach, read this article on practical PBL. It outlines a straightforward approach to transforming a traditional learning unit into a project based learning unit. The first step is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • "What instructional unit do I want to transform?

  • What engaging, relevant, real-world problem could students attempt to solve that is related to the concepts and skills in the unit?

  • What authentic roles can students take on to try solving this problem?

  • How might students be asked to work collaboratively to try solving this problem?"

Exit Slips: A simpler approach to incorporating more student choice into your teaching is to begin using 'exit slips.' Exit slips are simply a few short sentences written by the student to end a class session. They can be used for a myriad of purposes, but today I am going to ask you to use exit slips to ask students what they most want to learn about a specific topic. Try to incorporate their ideas in your next unit.

Personal Project: (Not a typical curriculum item, but especially helpful for emotional regulation and coping during this time of high stress) If your teaching team agrees, you could reduce workload for each course and jointly allow students to come up with their own project, something they would like to spend their time doing. Each teacher could take charge of one component - helping students set goals, make a plan, and checking in to see how it is going and if adjustments need made. I did this with my own kids over Spring Break - one chose to create a website for collecting people's experiences during COVID19 (, one chose to study neuroscience, and one learned Scratch programming. It was a great form of mental engagement and inherently motivating.

Next Up: Mindsets


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