Are our schools killing curiosity in the classroom?

Picture the scene … a new teacher in Nottinghamshire welcomes his Year 2 children into his class.  Bear in mind this is a year in which they will be doing end of Key Stage SATs.

He wheels in his bicycle, fully laden with treasures from his holiday.  The children are encouraged to ponder over the significance of each of the items as they unpack the saddlebags.

Time is given to wallow in musings and questioning as they decipher where he might have been. Children run out of school full of excitement and enthusiasm and knowledge of their new teacher.

They have been truly engaged due to their curiosity being ignited.

This could be a scene in many primary schools or Early Years settings across the country and was indeed the case in the classroom of one of our children. Berliner (The Guardian: 28th January 2020) suggests in her article that ‘schools are killing curiosity’ and actively discouraging questions.

When we read this article as Course Leaders in Initial Teacher Training programmes, we were outraged on behalf of our partnership schools and our trainees.

One of the core principles underpinning the Teachers Standards for Primary and Early Years Teachers is the promotion of a life-long love of learning.

This can only be achieved through engaging, motivating and authentic lessons.

In the Early Years, there is a standard (2.4) which focuses on developing sustained and shared thinking and this is encouraged by skilful practitioners who create opportunities to engage in to and fro conversation that moves learning forwards.

This is often stimulated by the standard practice of providing access to seemingly random objects which have in fact been chosen to ignite curiosity, awe and wonder.

These might be junk objects; for example, washing machine drums in the outside area which can be used as musical instruments or lengths of fabric in place of specific costumes for dressing-up. This is not about children copying what an adult has modelled but about them making those objects their own and taking the adult on the learning journey with them.

This practice can be seen very clearly in The Curiosity Approach (Hellyn & Bennett, 2019) which “takes parts from ‘Reggio, Steiner, Té Whàriki and a sprinkle of Montessori’” (ibid: 6).

Even in the more formal set up of the primary phases, children are encouraged to tap into their innate curiosity and ask questions.

Social-constructivist approaches work on the principles of a discursive classroom where learning is stimulated by the children’s interests even while working with the National Curriculum.

An important thing about the National Curriculum is that it informs us of WHAT we need to cover but not HOW we cover it.

The pedagogical approach that is taken is down to the values and expertise of the schools and the teachers. Governments, assessments and ‘strategies’ come and go but if at the heart of your teaching you have a child-centred philosophy then this is apparent in day to day practice.

Perhaps if the government would just desist from chasing league tables and allow our teachers to teach using their professional knowledge and skills, then we believe that everybody, including the teachers, would be happier.

Vicky McEwan and Eleanor Power

One comment

  1. Will the change in Ofsted’s focus mean that instilling curiosity is more likely to happen?
    Surely staff can now justify their promotion of their subject and therefore, opportunities to promote intellectual curiosity and draw upon a sense of awe and wonder will increase.
    All is not lost.
    Stand up for what you believe in (but don’t let standards suffer!)
    Children may even enjoy coming to school more and engage in all lessons as a result.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s