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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #19: Intellectual

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

This is post #19 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.

Curious students learn more and learn better. This does not happen randomly or by chance but because our brains are wired that way. It’s something that is designed to happen when the circumstances are ideal. It’s how we learn new things and survive in complex and sometimes dangerous environments.

This is one fact that educators sometimes forget. Our brains are designed to learn new things! If we just get out of the way, students will naturally explore and gain new knowledge. It’s something that happens naturally if we can create positive conditions for it. All curiosity is not created equal, however. There are four stages of curiosity that build on each other as students develop that inner desire to learn.

In the first stage students are mostly concerned with the process (Heick, 2019). A typical request in this stage will be, “Just tell me what to do,” as students are primarily concerned with procedural knowledge. This includes teacher expectations, student expectations, interactions with peers, and the sequence of the task. This is where most learners begin as they try to make sense of any given task or activity. When at this stage, learners need prompting, repetition of instructions, clarification and paraphrasing, and even directions in multiple formats.

The second stage, content, finds students more engaged with the content of the task rather than the directions. The topic of study, rather than a series of instructions, is what drives them to continue. To support students at this level, teachers would do well to find materials at appropriate reading levels, compelling content to interest students, tasks that balance consumption of material and production of artifacts, and various methods of providing voice and choice to students.

The third stage of curiosity, transfer, is one in which students begin to connect knowledge, assimilating what they already know with what they are learning. Students here need continued support but growing levels of freedom as they seek to direct their own learning into new contexts, sometimes without the proper frameworks or strategies. Teachers can provide flexible rubrics, open-ended learning models, and scoring guides to support students here.

The fourth stage of curiosity, self, sees the culmination of curiosity result in students making sense of changes and transferring new learning into their own existing schema. This is the most powerful level of curiosity because it can change students’ reasons for learning and their role in the learning process. They begin to ask questions unprompted, think of new learning pathways that are not explicitly stated, and continuously seek to reconcile what they do and don’t know without prodding. Here students need space, exemplar models, and strategic collaboration.

What can you do tomorrow?

Be curious. Intentionally discuss your own curiosity with students and model how a curious mindset affects how you learn. Look at your daily schedule to see how you can carve out some curiosity time for students to pursue their interests.

Play with words. One way to do this and allow students to participate is to highlight word play. As you and your students encounter new words, guess at their meanings and explore synonyms.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom tasks nurture curiosity in students by:

· Including sufficient procedural knowledge to accomplish tasks independently;

· Bridging across content areas and providing a means of exploration; and

· Encouraging students to transfer knowledge into the production of authentic artifacts.


Why is the creativity gap so dire? More and more, our students are preparing to enter a knowledge workforce economy. Tasks are completed by machines and information is available with the click of a button or a swipe of a finger. We don’t need to get students ready to work on an assembly line because those jobs are being automated at an astonishing rate. Instead, our focus in education should be to help students grow in something that can never be replaced by a machine, the ability to think creatively.

Creativity, to put it simply, is the generation of a new product, either physical, digital, or cognitive, that is both novel and appropriate to the situation. It’s a set of skills and attitudes that include tolerating ambiguity, redefining old problems, taking sensible risks, and following an inner passion. When thinking of creativity, we usually first think of art, an invention, or perhaps poetry. For our circumstances, though, we can ask students to be creative every day.

When we ask them to solve open-ended problems that do not have an explicit formula to use, we are tapping into their creativity. Any type of writing product uses creativity, as does responding to higher-order thinking questions. We might not be asking them to reinvent the light bulb, but teachers, unknowingly or not, can ask students to be creative on a consistent basis.

Creativity, at its core, blooms in the soil of student choice and the ability to pursue self-selected interests. Highly related to curiosity, creativity is not something that can be assigned but must flourish on its own. A solid first step for creating that environment is filling your class with compassion and acceptance. Creativity is messy. It isn’t linear and there isn’t an algorithm to follow. For every creative success, there will be many aborted attempts that end in failure. If students don’t feel safe trying new things and playing with ideas, if they dread shame or penalty for being wrong, then creativity will never flourish.

What can you do tomorrow?

Build a creative environment. Consider how you can nurture creativity in your classroom on a large and small scale. For the former, provide students a sense of safety if they take risks. Give them opportunities to leave the scripted lesson and explore new options.

Be creative daily. On a smaller scale, engage creativity daily with brain teasers, quick writes, and collaborative tasks. Add a twist to an assignment as an extra challenge and tweak existing tasks to be more open-ended.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom tasks support student creativity by:

· Embedding open-ended and ambiguous elements;

· Resting on a foundation of autonomy and student choice; and

· Encouraging partner or group collaboration.

To read more posts in this series, click here.



Heick, T. (2019, October 7). From procedural knowledge to self knowledge: The 4 stages of curiosity. Retrieved from Teachthought:

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