Educating Girls

15 October 2020

Nurturing and Developing Curious Learners

Nurturing and Developing Curious Learners

‘She sells seashells by the seashore …’ (Traditional poem, circa 1850)

Many of you would recognise this tongue twister and the challenges it can pose. Despite its notoriety, what is less well known is ‘who’ actually influenced this popular rhyme. You may, like me, be surprised to learn that ‘She sells seashells’ is said to have been inspired by the life and work of pioneering female scientist and palaeontologist, Mary Anning.
Mary Anning (1799-1847) is credited with the discovery of ichthyosaur and plesiosaur dinosaur fossils amongst many others. She made her first finding when she was around 12 years old! Mary was innately curious and loved to search for fossils along the cliffs and coastlines of the beach near her hometown. To generate some income for her family, Mary was resourceful, selling her collection of ammonites and fossils to tourists and locals. Hence the meaning behind the lyrics of this tongue twisting poem of selling shells along the seashore!
Mary’s unique story and historically significant contribution to the field of science highlights the importance that curiosity plays in developing oneself as a learner. Harnessing the power of curiosity is one of the key ways to unlock a love of lifelong learning, as this intellectual asset is integral in building understanding. Without being curious, it is arguably almost impossible to research, explore, observe, hypothesise, compare, empathise and take action.
Professor Ron Ritchhart, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Project Zero, highlights the importance of teachers creating learning environments that advocate for the explicit development of curiosity. One of the significant teachings that Ron emphasises is the inherent importance curiosity plays in the development of students as learners. Ron explains that a large part of students becoming proficient thinkers is being able to ‘explore perspectives, find problems, be curious and follow up on that curiosity to be able to direct one’s own inquiry and understanding and solve these problems in creative and flexible ways.’
Curiosity is highly valued at Ruyton, as we constantly seek opportunities for our girls to hone and amplify their questions, wonderings and problem-solving skills. We support the development of learning dispositions such as wondering and questioning through the use of Thinking Routines. Thinking Routines successfully scaffold and generate the learning process. Making thinking ‘routine’ is one of the powerful ways we can nurture and develop creative and curious learners.
As part of our Collaborative Learning Investigations in the Junior School, the girls have been inquiring into the word Curiosity and what it means to them. We used a thinking routine called Thinking with Images to help explore and define this complex learning trait. These snapshots capture some of the rich and diverse learning conversations generated by their analysis of ten artistic images:
‘I chose image eight because it looks like a mind thinking with all the little dots connecting to each other … it keeps connecting so it looks like a big mind with all the little ideas coming through.’ Isla, Year 1
‘I think number three looks like curiosity … because it is all jumbled and you can’t see where it is going to go … just like questions!’ Maeve, Year 4
‘The word ‘Curious’ to me means something that is new to you and just makes you want to explore or adventure into its caves and nooks ...’ Abigail, Year 4
By empowering our girls from a young age to realise what they are curious and passionate about, we can help them become ‘pioneers of thinking’. They will create a foundation upon which they can build all future inquiry. Whilst they may not all become world famous palaeontologists, we hope their spirit of curiosity will assist in making their own life-changing discoveries.


Ellen Savill

Learning Leader, Early Learning to Year 4 
Ruyton Girls' School
October 2020