Why do babies and young children seem to lose much of their curiosity in school? One reason, I believe, is that school undermines their autonomy and competence, which, according to self-determination theory, decreases intrinsic motivation and curiosity.

Kashdan and Fincham's book chapter, "Facilitating Curiosity: A Social and Self-Regulatory Perspective for Scientifically Based Interventions" (pdf), states that curiosity accounts for about "10% of the variance in achievement and performance outcomes." That's quite a bit. In their conclusion, they write,

Central to developing successful curiosity interventions is the enhancement of task curiosity, such as positive affect, feelings of self-determination, performance enhancement, and the acquisition of skill and knowledge.

One implication I take away from what the authors are saying is that we need to move away from breadth and more to depth. Constant cramming of meaningless facts doesn't give the time needed to develop competence in an area outside of memorization and grades. And constant cramming is usually a result of teacher-directed instead of student-initiated activity. Not that teachers don't need to direct at times and not that "knowledge" is not necessary. Rather, to nurture curiosity, students need the time to delve into concepts and practices so that their competence can develop, and they need to exercise self-determination by having a voice in course objectives and activity.

Much of what teachers need to do is to create environments that stimulate curiosity, the development of competence, and "authentic" self-determination. Rather than memorize ideas to be regurgitated on exams, students need "idea environments" in which they play with ideas, bounce them back and forth among themselves and others, and actually use them.

Related post: Engagement and Flow

In my previous post, I discussed foregoing the term "passionate learners" for "enjoying learners." I'd like to take it a step further and talk about "curious" learners. Actually, most people are curious; they just aren't that curious about school subjects. As Csikszentmihalyi states:

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

Perhaps students do not wish to because teachers transmit information instead of engaging students in creating knowledge. Perhaps they do not wish to because school subjects are disconnected from their own communities and societal activities. And perhaps they do not wish to because they do not have the experiences to make connections to school knowledge.

Then, again, am I myself really curious about everything I come across? I remember considering majoring in math and I signed up for two classes (geometry and diff eq). I read the first few chapters before the class, went to class the first day, and thought to myself: Boring!! I had no experience to see any relevance to this dry subject. And that ended my math major.

Turning to writing, I like it much more. I especially enjoy playing with words and tweaking sentences to make them more rhetorically effective. That natural (?) interest in language may be the reason I enjoy teaching ESL and studying languages. Still, I have to say that learning languages is frustrating when I try to communicate unsuccessfully. So, I can sympathize with the overwhelming majority of my students who say that they do not like writing, especially in English. When speaking, many "mistakes" go by unnoticed or unremarked upon. Writing accompanied by teacher comments, however, stares them in the face with the fact that they still have not mastered English, a process that will take probably ten years or more. Of course, giving students more control over the topics and genres of writing helps. But that's not enough for a long lasting curiousity in learning to write better. What else can help?