By Jonathon Medeiros
When does the river become the delta? When does the delta become the sea? Do fish see the water they breathe? Is that right, do fish breathe? When did the cavaquinho become the ukulele? Is dancing storytelling? Why is live music pleasurable?
I believe in questions, not answers. I believe in the power of curiosity. There is value in the work of being curious, in looking at or even imagining connections. I believe that we can build empathy by practicing curiosity, by examining the visible and invisible connections around us. Often, however, my students seem to think that empathy and curiosity and kindness are fixed personality traits; either we are or are not those things, in the way we are or are not 5ʻ9”.
We can build the muscles of curiosity and questioning through practice, in the same way we can build our ability to run or climb or write. After all, we learn by asking and exploring the crevices of questions, especially those to which no answer is obvious. Finding correct answers is often not actually important to learning. Once an answer is deemed to be “correct,” we stop looking and consequently stop learning. The act of being curious, of following that curiosity, of following up answers with more questions, is key and this is what leads us to explore and expand our ideas.
While this may be true, convincing students of the importance of asking questions with no answers, and trying to make that kind of questioning second nature for students, can be difficult. Humans sometimes want to find an answer so they can stop working, but this mindset keeps us closed off from othersʻ ideas.
The ERWC mini-module “Introducing Inquiry Questions” is a wonderful way to introduce students to the simple but powerful idea that being curious is important. This mini unit makes explicit the benefits of asking questions without answers through a variety of activities and texts, including an engaging TED talk. Students investigate times that they have asked curious questions, reminding them that this was once natural for most of us, and then walks them through some texts that help clarify the power of picking that habit up again. Emma Chiappettaʻs new book Creating Curious Classrooms: The Beauty of Questions is another amazing resource focused on teaching us how to cultivate curiosity in our classrooms and with our students.
Jonathon Medeiros has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for seventeen years with students on Kauaʻi. He frequently writes poetry, memoir, and essays about education. He is the former director of the Kauaʻi Teacher Fellowship. Jonathon enjoys building things, surfing, and spending time with his wife and daughters. He believes in teaching his students that if you change all of your mistakes and regrets, you’d erase yourself. Follow Jonathon on Twitter – @jonmedeiros or at jonathonmedeiros.com.