Igniting Your Curiosity

I feel like we spend so much time building into our kids that we neglect ourselves. So today’s session is about how we can ignite curiosity in ourselves first. Well, it starts with that. Starting to bring in curiosity, we cannot even begin to bring curiosity into our children’s lives when ours comes from a lack of inspiration because day-to-day motions cause us to forget.

My theme is to be like that bee hive. Bees in a bee hive are very focused on their specific task, but I want to bring into my life and my students’ lives a focused activity but from a place of curiosity. So we can approach pretty much everything from a place of curiosity. A bee goes toward a flower because it’s colorful and interesting to them.

To me, curiosity really comes down to a desire to figure it out or try it, but curiosity is also that ability to take risks. I remember when I was younger, I got up and made coffee and burned myself in the same spot. I thought about that a lot over the years because I mean it was probably just my curiosity – I wonder what would happen if I did that again. So curiosity can be dangerous. We are raised and grow up in a world where curiosity is prevented.

When I say curiosity, I specifically mean interest in anything. There is nothing that is too unimportant to research, nothing that my kids are interested in is unimportant because the point of learning is to learn and grow. Yeah, I’ll get into that later. The beginning of a curious student, a curious approach to Cambridge or any exam, is really us as parents having that vibrant curiosity.

A beehive can only thrive when the queen is vibrant and strong. Our household too, is only strong when we as parents have that vibrancy. Our children only learn when our curiosity brings life. We can’t be lifeless and tell them that they must learn when we are not learning. That doesn’t mean that we must learn what they are learning because honestly I do not care about some aspects of TikTok dances. But I am interested in my children, so if they are interested in it, I will engage.

It becomes difficult to nurture our own interests when we feel we need to teach our child math or read this book with them. Everything we do becomes built around learning what they need to learn. But I want to challenge myself as well as my kids – let’s explore and learn because we are curious. If we force our children to sit and work 8 hours a day but they are only doing it because we said so, I feel that lacks inspiration. Especially as homeschoolers we are able to bring things into learning for the sake of interest and exploring different facets of life.

I got my kids silk worms not because it was part of a curriculum, but because they asked how silk is made and how the life cycle of silkworms work. So we’re exploring that, but I’m not doing it because I must do this topic now. I find learning engaging when it comes from my own interest. My son and I were looking up loud music theory videos, not because he “needs” to learn music theory, but because we were both interested.

The thing is, we need to show our children that learning can follow from our inspiration. So how do we build our own curiosity? That is a challenge that I don’t have the answer for everyone, but here is the answer for me. As a kid, my curiosity was stifled by teachers telling me I was wasting my time, that what I was doing had no value. It was stifled by being told I failed at something, like failing a spelling test, which really wasn’t failing.

Does it matter if I enjoy learning spelling words or not? Does it matter whether I sit for 7 hours a day and write essays or whether I sit and journal? Does it matter if I learn biology through a textbook or by working out statistics related to genetics? These are ways we can approach learning, but we get caught up in doing what the textbook or curriculum says – how a “good” student should be.

I feel the first step is to believe that we as adults can learn the same way a child can. We can acquire new languages, learn absolutely anything we want. I often joke the difference between being an expert in something versus knowing nothing about it is a late night for me. When I want to learn something, I’ll be up until 3am researching, writing, listening to music – hanging out with myself. I’m not learning for any deadline, I’m learning because I’m genuinely interested in the topic. There is no value in rote learning, but I can still learn deeply.

So our first step is having the confidence in ourselves that we can learn. Then, actually taking that initial inspiration and committing to learn something new. After that, it’s important to have the skills to properly research a topic. Many of us, when I was in high school, it was not so easy to find information. Now we live in a world with unlimited access to information, yet we know nothing because we get so overwhelmed. Our strategy for researching something is typing it into Google and reading the first result. There is so much more depth we can go into. We don’t have to just skim, we can really dive deep. I’m going to send everyone some tips on how I research a topic, because without being able to properly research, our curiosity can’t be fully explored.

Our curiosity can also be explored through experimenting. I wonder what will happen if I add this spice to my curry? A year ago my curries were terrible. After talking to a student who gave me some tips, that changed everything – it was the best curry I’d ever tasted. From there I developed a bit of an obsession with curries and tweaking recipes. It’s really just because I’m curious what I can create. So what if I burn the rice, or the computer crashes – I’ll just reload the operating system. We can and should explore things even if they go wrong sometimes. Of course some experiments are dangerous, like throwing a glass against the wall. We need to find healthy ways to explore curiosity, but in order to teach healthy exploration, we must know what lights our own curiosity first.

Is it too late to ignite curiosity in children, even if they are 15 or 16? I don’t think it is. I’ve had students come to me who completely lack curiosity or care about learning. They don’t care about math or English. After just 2-3 months in my course, they absolutely love the subject because it stops being about judging if they are good or bad at it. Instead, it becomes about all the fascinating things there are still left to learn. So curiosity in our children can easily be revived with the right approach.

Curiosity is already in our children – we just need to reignite it. We can reignite their curiosity by being passionate learners ourselves, and also by encouraging whatever specific interests they have. If they are interested in rocks, listen to them talk about rocks for hours, explore rocks with them, sit with them while they categorize their rock collection. If they’re interested in multiplication tables but they’re only 5 years old, let them explore and get excited about numbers. Don’t shut it down by saying they are not old enough. Let them be curious. Let them get excited about learning. If they are completely wrong, you might want to gently help guide them, but only if it’s the right time and space. If they’re not open to input in that moment, you can correct it later and show them exactly how something works later on.

How do we apply this concept of curiosity to academics? I do use textbooks and standardized resources with my students, but they have never seen me open a textbook in front of them. I reword everything, even if I’m copying something directly from a book, to paint ideas as ideas we are discovering together. I never present anything as coming from an outside textbook. It’s framed as an idea, an exercise we’re figuring out together, something we’re exploring. I’m not the expert – I am knowledgeable, but I don’t take an “expert” position. I present myself as a co-learner with my students.

For example, in one of my IGCSE classes we did a curiosity day. We read a short text, and pulled out one highly quotable sentence. I had them post it in our online forum. Then, only after they did that initial exercise of looking at the meaning in context, I told them the next step. I said let’s now take this quote out of context as an exercise. I told them to take the exact same sentence, but place it in a totally different fictional context and explain how that changes the meaning. I did this exercise along with them, using a quote about bees. They came up with creative examples, and were able to look at how radically meaning can change depending on context. By the end, they didn’t even fully realize everything they had learned about language. They just knew they had fun with the activity.

It sparked their interest because everything can be turned into a learning opportunity if you start with curiosity. When we are introducing any topic, look to tap into what already interests students and start there. I was doing some math with a student who was bored by the material. I asked what he was personally interested in lately, and he was really into comparing the protein content and quality in different protein sources. So we looked at if he needed to consume a certain amount of protein each day, how could he get that through different sources like whey versus plant proteins that have different percentages of protein per gram. That became a starting point to explore concepts like ratios, percentages, nutrition etc.

From that practical real world example, we could branch out to cover what was required in the syllabus he was prepping for. As we cover each official topic, we take it off paper and into the real world. Yes, it’s more intensive to teach this way, tailoring lessons to the child’s interests – but I only provide the starting point or framework, most of the time my students then self-direct learning. They go and excitedly geek out about the topic, researching more deeply on their own. When my A-Level English students come to class, they tell me about videos or articles they found, sharing how language has evolved and affected culture over time. I give them the opportunity to direct their own learning.

Yes we still have a checklist of topics to cover, but trying to rigidly fulfill the checklist is not going to lead to engagement. In some circumstances like a time crunch, I will give more guidance. But the ideal is that students decide for themselves what fascinates them and how they want to explore it. When students are 15, 16, 17, as parents we need to stop hand-holding and let children take responsibility for their learning.

I’ve seen that when parents clearly communicate that “this is your responsibility and I will back you up,” those students excel not just on exams but in life. I had one student who started math with me in 10th grade struggling, but his mom and I were united in making it his journey that we were guiding, not forcing. It was wild for me watching that respectful dynamic. He finished high school math with me, went on to university, and after his first year there he became a tutor for other college students in advanced math topics. Then at one point I even needed help teaching accounting to my other students, and he came to teach the class!

We can explore integrating curiosity into any subject if we just let go of our own anxiety about whether our kids are learning the “right” things on the “right” timeline. We cannot measure their success based on a letter grade on an exam. I’ve seen students get As across the board, but when it comes to life skills and relationships they struggle, because school was only about chasing the exam grades, not actually retaining knowledge and cultivating curiosity. School is about learning how to learn. The things we explore, topics we cover, those are secondary.

Something very important I want to share is that I learned so much of what I know about teaching methodology from people who are not professional teachers. My pedagogy is influenced by the Charlotte Mason approach – that you should learn from those passionate in their field, not necessarily someone who just wants to sell you a textbook. There are wonderful people who write textbooks, if it’s their passion. But most conventional textbooks are churned out for profit, not passion. It’s okay to make money, but when profit is the focus over sharing knowledge, students suffer.

The biggest shift in my teaching came when I stopped trying to meticulously plan lessons, and instead focused my energy on learning from people who are true experts in whatever I’m interested in. When I want to learn about bees, I read books by beekeepers and entomologists, not generic textbooks. Books represent so much concentrated insight, as authors have to go through a lot to get published. Yes, some books and blog posts out there are poorly researched, but the best way to learn is to go straight to primary sources from those passionate in their field.

Instead of saying okay, I need to teach this English concept of textual analysis, let me go learn about it from some other teacher doing the same exam. No – let’s go learn from literary critics, linguists, what have experts in analyzing language said and written about it? Let’s go beyond the minimum textbook content. The textbook is our starting point but never the endpoint, because exams are not the purpose of learning. Exams are just milestones along the way, because we are lifelong learners.

I know a lot of what I shared probably sounds quite idealistic or radical to some. But I promise you, my students love learning. People who come to me hating math or English, within months completely shift their perspective. I have students spend hours of their free time studying linguistics, and they aren’t even my full time students! I only see some of them 4 hours a week, and they come to class during holidays too just for fun. It’s not because I’m some amazing teacher – it’s because of the respectful, curiosity based, mutually inspiring approach I take.

If anyone has questions, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to share more specifics on applying this philosophy to different subjects. I’ll be sending everyone who attended this session some follow up notes too, with daily prompts to get you thinking about growing your own curiosity. Then that vibrant curiosity will naturally overflow into your home and children’s lives too.

Mastering A-Level English: The Ultimate Exam Study Guide for Students, Parents and Teachers

As an A-Level English teacher, I always (mostly always because sometimes these kids are super stressed out) enjoy my tutoring sessions with students who are preparing for their exams. Earlier this week, I had an especially fruitful online session with one of my students.Here are some of the key concepts we discussed, as they may benefit other A-Level English students who are also gearing up for their exams.

Analysing the Features of Diverse Text Types

One of the major skills assessed on the exam is the ability to analyse the features and conventions of different text types. I encouraged my student to actively seek out examples of real-world texts, like ads, op-eds, brochures, podcast transcripts, travel guides, etc. and catalog them in a database (I love Obsidian because you can make notes on them in the same place, but you could also load them onto Google drive and add links in a Google sheet). This will help develop familiarity with diverse text types. For each example, students should note details such as:

  • Date
  • Type of text
  • Key features and conventions
  • Intended audience
  • Purpose

Building this database over time will prove invaluable when it comes time to analyse unfamiliar texts in the exam – and when it comes time to write in these different forms.

Distinguishing Between News and Commentary

We also discussed the difference between news reports and article/commentary pieces. While news aims to inform readers about events, articles take a broader approach, providing context, opinions, and analysis. This distinction is important when evaluating the purpose and perspective of a text.

Crafting Descriptive Writing

In addition to analysing texts, students must also demonstrate strong writing skills in the exams. We explored descriptive writing techniques using vivid examples from renowned authors. Good description appeals to the senses and transports the reader into a scene. I encouraged my student to study these examples and take notes on effective techniques to hone their own descriptive writing.

Tackling Paper 1 and Paper 2

Exam success requires tailored preparation for Paper 1 and 2. Paper 1 evaluates reading comprehension and text analysis abilities. Paper 2 assesses writing skills. I suggested strategies like close reading diverse texts to understand rhetorical devices, and clearly communicating ideas for specific purposes and audiences.

Grasping Key Concepts

Finally, we discussed foundational concepts applicable to both exam papers:

  • How language creates meaning and style
  • Audience influence on writers’ choices
  • Using creativity in language
  • Understanding diverse influences on language
  • Language evolution over time

Contemplating these big ideas will enrich students’ analysis and writing.

While you may not have been in the session, you would do well to apply some of these ideas in your own studies. What A level English study strategies have you found most helpful? Please share your insights below!

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