A curiosity cabinet: How school libraries can develop curious students

Written by: Valerie Dewhurst | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Curiosity is crucial to lifelong learning and motivating our pupils – and the school library can play a key role in fostering this skill. Valerie Dewhurst offers some ideas and advice

“A school library is a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth."
School Library Guidelines (IFLA, 2015).

Curiosity is sparked by the desire to know more and is another great opportunity to get the word out to our colleagues in schools about all the excellent things that a library can and does offer.

It is not rocket science. We all know that a library – and not just a school library – can go a long way in helping to support learners, and fostering curiosity is a crucial way in which we can support teaching and learning within any research project.

Transform, excite, extend and enhance

Curiosity can be defined in many ways – curiosity being mind-related, the need to find out, investigate, seek and ask lots of questions. Curiosity can lead on to bigger and better things – end-goals, personal satisfaction and eventually success.

What is important to me is getting a key message across to the whole school that a school library can support and even inspire curiosity.

I see my school library as a curiosity cabinet – packed with resources, all waiting to set young, curious minds and imaginations free.

After all, curiosity is essential to learning and, speaking from experience, those who are more curious about a particular topic tend to learn faster.

Curiosity essentially primes the brain for learning.

Librarians and library staff have the knowledge and expertise to guide and nurture student’s curiosity. From our primary phase through to sixth form, the school library can help to transform, excite, extend and enhance teaching and learning.

Ultimately, in any form of research or study, students should be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible, be this in the classroom or in the school library where their research is hopefully happening.

Giving students time to stretch their imaginations, to run wild a little, empowers and builds confidence. In my experience, curiosity:

  • Makes our mind active instead of passive – an active mind is more liable to learning and discovery.
  • Makes our mind observant of new ideas – we are all open to new ideas.
  • Helps us to explore and wonder.
  • Encourages independent learning.
  • Opens up new worlds and possibilities.
  • Brings excitement into our life – new ideas mean more knowledge acquired.

Engaging with teaching colleagues

Last term, I had the opportunity to contribute to our INSET day, putting together a short (remote) presentation as part of a carousel of teaching and learning CPD sessions (I have attached the PowerPoint to this article, click the button on this page to download). My aim was to raise awareness of just how the library can help to foster curiosity.

I said that making curiosity a goal in a research project is essential. Developing activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know before seeking the answers should be a key goal when the research first begins.

Therefore, having the resources in place to inspire curiosity is an absolute must for any school library.

Research bookings

Once a research booking has been made in the school library, it is best to do some collaborative work with the member of teaching staff involved. Don’t just expect things to flow – you need to do your homework too.

You will want to know more about the project being studied and you will want to check what resources you stock in your library to help support this research.

You may wish to use your print resources only – this would be an ideal time to promote your stock – but think too about your clientele and ask what they will be happy (and more likely) to use.

I will also be very curious myself about what students have already been using to get information for their work – and curious as to what the teacher has been using too.

All of this information will help the research session/s to run smoothly and may even help to encourage a second booking.

Encouraging exploration

We all know that Albert Einstein was compelled by curiosity – he had a very curious mind. So how can we help our students to become compelled too – to have a thirst for knowledge, to go that that one step further when working on a research project?

Sadly, for some, curiosity is a skill which has not been acquired or nurtured and acquiring information is far too easy these days, handed to us on a plate online (but with no guarantee that it is reliable).

However, more often than not learning leads to more learning; raising curiosity can make learning more fun – it sparks imagination and leads to all kinds of finds and new experiences. Einstein would indeed vouch for this. Sparking curiosity is simply encouraging exploration.

It is vital to always have the topic being studied at the forefront of the learning experience. So when you are happy with the resources you have identified for your booking, then it is time to take action. Here are some ideas:

  • Set aside time for students to tinker with ideas, tools, emotions, beliefs, and materials, just as they would in the classroom.
  • Challenge students to not accept everything at face value and to rethink historical or standard ways and methods – as librarians we have the expertise to do this.
  • Have students practise asking good questions – an expectation in a classroom.
  • Make sure the technology you use does not take the place of (but instead supplements) face-to-face interaction.
  • Think about the digital tools already being used in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model curiosity?

What you want is for the teacher and students to want to return, maybe extend their research a little further, or simply just to use the quiet space.

Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning

My own curiosity recently led me to discover FOSIL (the Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning), an inquiry mind-set and toolkit which is something new to schools and something extremely exciting – hopefully you are now beginning to become a little more curious yourselves.

FOSIL is a free programme with pre-made teaching resources. It is a process which students work through while understanding a research project and it comprises six stages. Based on Stripling’s Cycle of Inquiry, it begins with Connect before moving onto the next five stages: wonder, investigate, construct, express, reflect.

FOSIL enables learning through inquiry, it helps to develop skills to be curious and it gets everyone thinking. The main purpose of this resource is to teach students how to find out things for themselves, to be curious.

Earlier I talked about setting curious minds free and giving students time to think. This is where FOSIL can help – it builds on a framework of skills including crucial critical literacy skills.

By using FOSIL in the school library our students will be encouraged to take a fresh approach to their research. FOSIL does not have to be teacher/librarian-led – so this is also ideal for learning support because it is easy to use and adapt. FOSIL is designed for use from year 1 right through to year 13 and can help to build a foundation of skills.

Other initiatives

All libraries need to promote themselves, be it through competitions, author events, class bookings – whatever it takes. We have to ignite and enthuse, not just our readers but our researchers too, from primary right through to the sixth form. I am extremely excited about the new academic year and just how my school library will once again be able to support and enhance teaching and learning – beginning with curiosity.

  • Valerie Dewhurst is head of library at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Blackburn.

Further information & resources

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