You’re here again for the third post in our series on project based learning! You must really be dedicated to learning how to make project-based learning work for you in your classroom. If you are new here and you want to catch up, you can do that here and here.
A google search of “strategies to promote curiosity in the classroom” will result in several blog posts with lists of one-off strategies you can try in your classroom to promote curiosity. While none of them are bad, they are not complete. Just like we don’t limit our use of texts written by and with protagonists of color and with different cultures and ethnicities to a designated month in the school year, we don’t promote curiosity with one-off strategies. Just like culturally diverse texts are important to be integrated into every corner of our classroom to be most effective, the same is true of promoting curiosity. That is why project-based learning is so important; sustained inquiry is weaved from the beginning of the unit until the end.
As teachers, the greatest gift you can give your students is the ability to ask questions while they read. This promotes life-long learning. When you focus on sustained inquiry (Key 4), students start to learn that asking questions about what they are reading is not only good, but it makes it much more interesting.
Sustained Inquiry (Beginning)-
To begin, ask your students what questions they have about the topic of the text. For example, perhaps you are beginning a novel about the Holocaust. They should have a solid background knowledge of at least the main topic. Push them further to think about what they’ve always wondered about the Holocaust. Perhaps they’ve always wanted to know what it was like to actually live in a concentration camp. That is a pretty solid question from a middle school student, but you can help them think deeper. Help them to consider questions they might not have ever thought. For example, how did Hitler convince so many people to believe the hate that he believed? Could the Holocaust ever happen again? How were children involved in the Holocaust? Allow them the opportunity to research their question before diving into the selected text.
Sustained Inquiry (Middle)-
Let’s continue with our holocaust topic and text from before. How do you continue to have students ask questions as they go along? Provide a time and structure for it. You can always include times for questions as students progress through the unit, but what if they say they don’t have any questions? This is where you have to be creative and think outside of the box. Perhaps you are reading Night and you lead your students to continue to question why Elie and his father didn’t run before being taken to the concentration camp. Or, what could have been done to stop Hitler before it got to this point. Perhaps you are studying symbols in the story and your students wonder, how do survivors of the holocaust remember these symbols now that so much time has passed. Host daily or weekly question brainstorming sessions either as a class or one-on-one. Then, you can incorporate nonfiction reading strategies as students research the answers to their questions.
Sustain Inquiry (End)-
In a future blog, we’ll discuss how to plan a project to be developed throughout the course of a unit, but the main idea here is to ensure you focus on including what students learned from their own inquiry and research (Key 2) in their final product. So, let’s assume your student has researched the question: how did Hitler convince so many people to believe the hate that he believed (beginning) and what could have been done to stop Hitler before it got to this point (middle). Your student would likely learn that Hitler’s use of propaganda led to his rise in power. Your student may want to research a cause and positive propaganda, then create a positive campaign for that cause. Or, your student might choose to create a website with the information they gained about Hitler to create awareness.
At this point, if you are questioning how you are able to manage this in your classroom, I will show you how to do this in future blog posts.
Unit then, focus on doing one thing. Perhaps, you help them ask questions and research at the beginning of the unit. That is the most logical and easiest way to start!
You can also:
Project-based learning solves the dreaded-"Why do I have to learn this?"
Develop life long readers and learners because they are always asking questions!
Make definite connections to reading!