Prompting curiosity in our students

We’ve been talking about the importance of giving our students something to yearn for, and how it might be the most important thing we should do as teachers.

Igniting curiosity in your students will ultimately let you evolve from a presenter to a facilitator, fueling their curiosity even further.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kanhneman introduces us to the priming effect. The inception of thoughts and feelings towards an idea via the biases of our intuiton. Automatic assumptions to ease the mental load to make a decision and how we can influence those associations by repetition, variety and behavior.

The priming effect relies on the influence that familiar stimulus outside of our conciousness can influence how and what we think about when performing an specific action. For example, it recalls a research where subjects asked to walk slower would more easily recognize words associated with old age. In another, participants who were asked to smile found content to be funnier than intended.

How can we replicate this favoral disposition of the mind during our lessons?

Beware, I’m not talking about “broken disk repetition”. Repetion of concepts and ideas should have an “All roads lead to Rome” feel to it. The amazing, unescapable, hidden concept behind your lesson. Let it lure your students in instead of shoving it to their faces. Every corner they turn, the concept should be there waiting for them to dive in.

Let the underlying concept be the common destination

We all come in different shapes and sizes. That means we won’t connect with the same content. It’s your job to find as many different examples and cases as you can in order to spark curiosity. That being said, understand your students and try to find commonalities.

There are always subgroups within our group. The sporties, the gamers, the fashionistas… I’m just giving examples here but you get the point. Invest in those connections. Research for a variety of fields from which to make your point.

We cannot only feel our way into behavior, we can behave our way into feelings. If we behave in certain ways our thoughts and emotions will eventually catch up. That’s why we have rites and traditions. We know what’s expected of us and we deliver. Later comes the feelings. Think about a wedding, a political event or the last board meeting you had. Behavior runs the show, but thoughts and feelings are sure to follow.

Wanna apply behavior first to prompt curiosity? First of all, you have to be the first one to be emotionally engaged with the material. Also ask for catch up questions related to interest: What did you find most interesting? Which 3 aspects would you like to explore further?

Maybe. 6 years after hitting the shelves, Ulrich Schimnach published Reconstruction of a train wrack, where he discusses the generalization of results on priming research. Notably, Kanhneman stated that it was possible that he might have protrayed the effect to be more powerful and straightforward than it actually is. Still, he thanked the follow up on the research and will continue to explore the ways of the mind.

Reconstruction of a train wrack is an extra lesson itself. Should we desestimate priming effect? No. But as any other resource, it would be unwise to rely solely on it.

+7 years experience on education industry. Marketing, academia, customer success, instructional design and e-learning development and management.