How to help students be curious.

We are increasingly aware of the role of K-12 education in “killing curiosity”, and we should be aware of how college can do that, too. Curiosity matters for its own sake–and it is also a strong predictor of learning, even more than focus! 

Here are some low-effort ways you can encourage more curiosity in your college students:

  • Write assignments so that students can pursue a number of different content options to meet them. You can still say no to any topic they suggest. Even better, while you don’t have to allow irrelevant work, you can work with students to make their interests relevant to your course. 
  • Allow students multiple options to show you what they’re learning. Sometimes, there is a very good reason why you require students to produce an academic paper on their topic. But if there isn’t, consider allowing them to create a presentation, a poster, a photo essay, a performance, or a podcast. 
  • Create rubrics with students--as a class, in groups, or individually. Allow them to decide what will be important in how a product is evaluated. They will often surprise you with how high their standards are. 
  • Create pathways in a class that students can follow. For example, in my sociology of sex class, students can focus their readings on sex + race and ethnicity; religion; health, medicine, and the body; crime, deviance, and law; or nation and place. This works well in larger classes, since you can break students into conversation groups based on their reading choices. 
  • Give students time to engage the material, and teach them that good readers (or viewers or listeners) produce writing about what they engage. Assign two-sided reading journals (students write direct quotations from the text on the left and their thoughts about them on the right) to teach students to analyze texts closely. Assign journal prompts or discussion forum questions that connect the reading to their own lives. Require them to submit three questions about the reading (no more than one of which can be a comprehension question) before the start of a class discussion. Give them a reading guide that asks them questions in the order that they are answered in the text–and make it due before the start of class. Even simply requiring them to submit notes over the reading, in any format they like, before class starts increases engagement. Grade based on completion, so that students are free to follow their thoughts without fear of being judged by you. 

How do you encourage your students to be curious?

Like what you read? Support it!

Above, a woman peeks behind a curtain in this painting by Federico Zandomeneghi

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