It pays to pique your pupils' curiosity

18th January 2013 at 00:00

There is probably no such thing as the "perfect" teacher. But many teachers may have an idea of the attributes that would make up the perfect pupil. Some will list intelligence, others good behaviour. There is the expectation, too, of an insatiable appetite for learning.

But how do you stimulate a lifelong desire for acquiring knowledge, particularly when passing exams with high grades remains the benchmark of success? And how do you instil curiosity - the emotional and intellectual bedrock of all learning?

Derrick Meador, an American educator who runs the advice website, argues that a key ingredient of the perfect pupil is being unafraid to ask questions. "The perfect student isn't necessarily the smartest," he writes. "Asking questions is often beneficial to the class as a whole because chances are if you have that question there are other students who have that same question."

Prepping pupils to ask the right questions, however, will have a lot to do with the way you frame your own queries in class. While "closed" questions are unavoidable in some situations, "open" questions, which prompt discussion and debate, are increasingly seen as the way to inspire learning and boost pupil confidence.

A new book by Lynne Cooper and Mariette Castellino, The Five-Minute Coach: improve performance - rapidly, offers a five-step guide to stimulating independent thought, helping "coachees" claim responsibility for their thought processes and actions. It was designed for management. But there are useful tips for the classroom, too. Its theme is rooted in what the authors describe as "clean questions" - those which contain the minimum of assumptions and none of the questioner's thoughts, answers or suggestions. Instead the format is devised to provoke deeper and more lateral thought.

It takes courage for a pupil to put up their hand and ask what they suspect might be a stupid question. And it is not always easy for a teacher to resist interrupting with the correct answer. But as one, nameless, industry leader has claimed: "curiosity didn't kill the cat, it built a company". We just have to give pupils the courage to be curious.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro @tes.

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