by Terry Heick
Where curiosity comes from isn’t entirely clear.
That’s probably because there is no single source for it any more than there is a single source for entertainment, anxiety, or confidence. There are strategies to promote curiosity in the classroom—even those that consider how the brain works. Ideally, teaching and learning wouldn’t benefit from having curiosity “added in,” but rather would fail completely without it.
There is also no single “look” for curiosity. The things teachers look for as indicators of “engagement”–waving hands in the air, locked eye contact, or good grades on tests—may not be the result of curiosity at all.
What are indicators of curiosity? Below we take a look at the idea. Also, note that these indicators don’t always represent curiosity and engagement—could be thoughtless habit or external coercion. In the same way, behaviors indicating lower levels of curiosity don’t necessarily mean the student is disengaged and uncurious. The lesson design could be confusing, or the materials used could be poorly-written, above their reading level, or otherwise misleading.
For this reason (and others), teachers are always encouraged to take a broad and holistic view of each student that incorporates habits over time, personality, and the ebbs and flow of growing up! Also, certain learner “needs” at one stage may also exist at another. These are merely suggestions that can characterize most closely a student’s “need to know.”
Stage 1: Process
Stage 2: Content
Stage 3: Transfer
Stage 4: Self
20 Indicators of Curiosity & Engagement
Stage 1: Process
“Tell me what to do.”
This is the first level of curiosity and engagement, where students are primarily concerned with procedural knowledge—teacher expectations, their role, interaction with peers, task sequence, etc. Included here is their own survey of the activity to highlight areas they may like or dislike, or be prepared or unprepared to complete.
All learners typically begin here as they try to make sense of a given task or activity. Ideally they’d start here and quickly graduate to the next level, but for some this may be their first and last stage without your intervention.
Learner Needs at this Stage: Prompting, repeating instructions more than once, clarifying instructions with paraphrasing, instructions in multiple forms (verbal, on screen or board, on a handout, etc.)
5 Indicators Of Curiosity At The Process Stage
- Learner needs redirection and prompting to even begin to make sense of the task.
- Learner asks primarily procedural questions if they ask any at all.
- Learner resists starting on a given task; may demonstrate minimal natural interest in either the content or their own performance.
- Learner asks about the minimal requirements of task
- Learner asks why they “have to learn this,” “when will they use this in real life,” and similar questions. (This questions is actually a sign of beginning curiosity, and begins to merge into Stages 2 and 3.)
Stage 2: Content
“This is interesting. I’d like to learn more.”
Following the Process Stage is the Content Stage of curiosity and engagement.
This stage unsurprisingly has content at its core. In traditional academic environments this could be topics of study, conversation, research, or related opportunities. Students no longer have the compelling big ideas of content obscured by instructions, activity design, or confusing–or well-intentioned but unnecessary in the face of budding curiosity–teacher directions.
In fact, the teacher’s role could be significantly reduced compared to Stage 1, which allows the interaction between the learner and content to be perhaps less neat and efficient, but more authentic and direct.
Learner Needs at this Stage: Content at appropriate reading level, compelling content, tasks that balance of consumption and production, choice and voice in their work (which is true at any stage)
5 Indicators Of Curiosity At The Content Stage
- Learner begins task unprompted.
- Learner attempts to both provide questions and answers.
- Learner “celebrates” topic in authentic ways.
- Learner suggests related resources, attempt to predict where content is “going next.”
- Learner monitors own understanding and seeks to correct misconceptions.
Stage 3: Transfer
“Move out of my way–but not too far.”
At this stage of curiosity, students begin to seamlessly connect knowledge, assimilating what they’re learning into what they already know. This can lead to transfer, where they—unprompted and without any cueing—transfer what they know from heavily-scaffolded and supported situations, to new and unfamiliar situations.
Learners at this level of curiosity may demand both direction and freedom at the same time as they seek to direct their own learning in new contexts, while sometimes lacking the frameworks, ideas, or strategies to do so.
Learner Needs at this Stage: Flexible rubrics, scoring guides that promote creativity, open-ended learning models (e.g., project-based learning), self-directed learning strategies
5 Indicators Of Curiosity At The “Transfer” Stage
- Learner moves from back and forth between macro and micro thinking.
- Learner revises task in minor but “personal” ways that are content-relevant.
- Learner offers more questions than answers.
- Learner may resist the suggested assignment or sequence of learning.
- Learner perseveres trying to articulate difficult thinking; seems unbothered by confusion, pushing on to either ignore, clarify, or work around source of confusion.
Stage 4: “Self”
“This has changed me.”
At the “Self” Stage of curiosity and engagement, students move past mere transfer to make sense of changes—and possible opportunities–in themselves as the result of learning. This is closely related to the Transfer Level, which makes sense as students will naturally transition knowledge to familiar schema—circumstances or situations they have experience with.
This is the most powerful level of curiosity not simply because of knowledge assimilations and transfer, but how it can change the student’s reasons for learning, and their own role in the learning process. At this level, students ask questions unprompted, can imagine learning pathways that aren’t suggested to them, and constantly seek to reconcile what they do and don’t know without prompting and prodding. In fact, a learner at this level will benefit from support, tools, models, and collaboration more than they might with direct instruction, rigid rubrics
5 (+1) Indicators Of Curiosity At The “Self” Stage
- Learner establishes their own criteria for quality
- Learner frequently refers to self in relation to the topic in ways that demonstrate insightful understanding or emerging understanding.
- Learner seeks to significantly revises task in some way—a resource, sequence, goal, or other important “part; creates unassigned work to complete on their own.
- Learner seeks “space,” quiet, or selective partnering to contextualize understanding in the classroom.
- Learner demonstrates noticeable emotions–excitement, sadness, reflection, etc.–somehow related to content that they may not feel comfortable sharing.
- The “residue” of learning experiences tend to linger in noticeable ways.
Learner Needs at this Stage: Exemplar models, dynamic tools, strategic collaboration, cognitive and emotional coaching, space
4 Stages Of Curiosity & 20 Indicators That Reveal Them