When we think about successful schools, we imagine motivated students who enjoy what they do and want to learn more. As we all know that learning is a really complex and difficult process, some logical questions come to mind:
- What makes students excited about learning?
- What happened to us that got us excited about learning?
- What practices disengage and de-motivate students?
Some motivational factors that are most important to make students excited about learning are:
1. Students want to have a practical, straightforward reason for what they’re doing. Teachers should get the students excited and motivated about a goal that they have to achieve in order to learn.
2. Teachers should help students get in an optimal state for learning. They should engage them with the projects that are exciting, that they want to do, instead of the boring, rote learning, and teaching to the test.
3. A teacher’s strongest tool — the force that draws students deeper into learning – is piquing students’ curiosity. Curiosity is what makes learning so much fun, and it is curiosity that makes us fall in love with learning.
Curiosity is the quest for new ideas and information. Intellectual curiosity is usually associated with creativity. Creative individuals seem to have a need to seek novelty and an ability to pose unique questions. Some studies have shown that individual differences in curiosity are associated with differential abilities to learn new information. High levels of curiosity in adults are connected to greater analytic ability, problem-solving skills and overall intelligence.
You can read more about research here: How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning
Although curiosity plays such an important role in learning, there is not much pedagogical literature on the topic. I’ve been thinking for a while why being more inquisitive means that we get more excited and drawn deeper into learning. While being passionate about something naturally renders us curious to know as much as we can about it, it also works the other way around: the more curious we are about something, the more likely we are to notice and learn about it, and thus the more interesting and meaningful it will become for us over time. From my own experience, playing the piano was much more interesting and enjoyable to me after a few years of practising and mastering the technique and the nuances in music I didn’t use to know when I started playing it. Since one of the most distinguishable characteristics of curiosity is the desire to explore and take risks, there is also the sense of novelty, adventure and uncertainty that is so alluring.
How do we cultivate curiosity in our students?
- We can start by being openly inquisitive ourselves, asking questions, but not the questions we can already answer, but genuinely interesting questions about the things we’d like to explore ourselves and be able to answer.
- We can give students many opportunities to ask questions, make comments, or give opinions. For example: at the end of class give your students time to write a few questions that come to mind as the result of the lesson, and start the next class by examining and discussing those questions.
- Encourage students to search for, find, and bring to class interesting and relevant sources and resources related to a topic under study. From time to time students can bring to class some interesting sources (newspaper/magazine articles, video clips, etc.) that are not related to the curriculum.
- Use problem- based learning strategies and often add play and playfulness to tasks.
- Do not put too much stress on tests and grading. Give assignments that promote curiosity and interest in learning but don’t count as part of grades (e.g. quizzes, crossword puzzles, questionnaires, make your own quiz, etc.)
- Use Socratic questioning to encourage students to ask and respond to your questions. You can find some interesting questions here.
What practices disengage and de-motivate students?
Nowadays in the digital age there are many teachers who do not talk with their students; they think that preparing power point presentations or prezi, i.e. just using technology is enough for engaging their students in learning; they read the texts from the slides and expect the students to copy the texts (definitions, data etc.) into their notebooks in order to memorize it later at home. Although they use modern digital technology to enhance their teaching, technology is the aim and not the tool in their methodology, which is not so much different from the conventional rote learning.
On the other hand, there are some other intelligent teachers who understand that the real learning is happening only when students are encouraged to think and find information on their own with the teacher as a guide (a facilitator, or mentor) in their information-finding adventure.