Others have written on "grit" in education -- that combination of "consciousness and perseverance" -- that could lead to depth of curiosity and mastery learning in an otherwise task-switching culture. When students exhibit intrinsic interest (a real pop of joyful intrigue), teachers jump at their enthusiasm and try to drum up a sort of hysteria of inquiry. Ooh, you like medieval history? Have you seen this virtual tour of the weapons museum? Oh, you like choose-your-own-adventure tales? This open-source software lets you make your own digital text-based adventures. Often, however, I have seen student interest peter out exactly at the moment when I do encourage a student to dig deeper (i.e., go the second page of the Google results).
To model research grit, recently I told students the origin of a lesson plan I gave them on privilege. After students read articles by Robert Jensen (1998) on white privilege, I wanted them to feel what privilege was -- something more immediate and physical. I borrowed this kinesthetic activity from a Buzzfeed article by Nathan Pyle, who writes that he "once saw a high school teacher lead a simple, powerful exercise to teach his class about privilege and social mobility." I was curious to learn more about this exercise during which students tossed balled-up paper from various parts of the room into a recycle bin near the front. Students couldn't choose their seats; luck did, and so students could quickly ascertain that privilege is unearned and access to the American Dream, at least within this symbolic model, is not always evenly distributed.
I asked Mr. Pyle on Twitter if he had the contact information for the teacher who devised the activity. Minutes later -- I later told my students -- Mr. Pyle replied that he had emailed me separately. I opened my email to find that Mr. Pyle, a Buzzfeed writer whom I'd never heard of hours before, was now sharing with me the origin story for this useful lesson plan. He, in fact, was the teacher who devised the exercise while previously a high school teacher himself. I shared this email correspondence and this revelation with my students and tried to point out how my own curiosity had led to research, which, in turn, lead to communication, which then lead to conversation and additional resource exchanges, which lead to depth of understanding and finally dissemination of knowledge.
While grit may ordinarily describe longterm efforts, even momentary grit -- a seeming oxymoron -- is something I want to teach my students daily.
Other examples of modeling curiosity in my classroom have included...
- contacting novelists' publicists, which lead to Using Skype for an Author's Classroom Visit
- contacting a graphic novelist directly, which lead to a blog Q&A with Greg Pak
- contacting a coder to understand how the website I Write Like works, which lead to the open source code
Whether we're "unpacking" an excerpt from McCarthy's The Road or "peeling back the layers" during a close viewing of Jaws, I think modeling curiosity is one of our greatest strengths and duties as teachers.
When a student says, "That's cool," follow up with, "Hey, what did the originator of that video game, film, story, blog, 3D printed marketplace, etc., say when you Tweeted at them?" Make the pursuance of curiosity the new status quo.