As we get older, we ask fewer questions. We wonder less.
I’ve seen this in the past with groups in museums. The primary school children are full of questions and ideas. By secondary school, you have to work so much harder to pique their curiosity. And with adults, it’s a very similar story.
They have basically stopped asking questions.
We pester our parents with ‘Why?’ and ‘What if’ questions for the first few years of our lives as we try to understand how things work. We’re busy learning. We hit our questioning peak around 4 or 5. Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day (I remember it well!)
We don’t lose the ability to ask questions, we just don’t use or ‘exercise’ it as much. Further on in life people tend to expect answers rather than questions.
Staying curious and wondering keeps your mind active and strong, makes you more receptive to new ideas, opens up new worlds and possibilities and brings excitement into your life.
Likewise in our work as educators and guides, we need to keep wondering ourselves in order to keep creating imaginative and lively guided tours, guided discussions and educational programmes. We need to stay curious about our specialist subjects, the organisations we work in and for and the collections they look after.
We know that artworks, objects and artefacts have the power to inspire, provoke curiosity and interest. But how can we really ensure that we are harnessing that power and doing all we can to provoke curiosity and wonder amongst the participants on our tours and programmes?
Foster Wonder & Curiosity⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
When I lead discussions using thinking routines, we can easily discuss one artwork or object for 15, 30, 60 minutes or more. How is it possible to sustain interest and curiosity for this length of time?
Object experiences using thinking routines stimulate curiosity, arouse memories and connections and encourage participants to share personal stories. Making your thoughts about an object visible, bringing your ‘wonderings’ out into the open and having conversations about objects can be an uplifting and sometimes even a transformative experience.
The exploration of artworks objects, whether slow or not, fires curiosity and leads to a multitude of questions, ideas and themes related to it. It’s a case of the more you look, the more you see, the more interesting the object becomes.
Thinking routines consist of a series of open-ended questions that work to fire up the group’s curiosity. This curiosity to find out more drives the discussion. The group keep wondering and keep asking questions, wanting the discussion to continue. After the discussion, participants leave wanting to return and learn more about other objects.
Thinking routines likeZoom In, See-Think-Wonder and See-Wonder-Connect are all about observing, interpreting and wondering. The slow reveal of the image with Zoom In works to really fire up curiosity to see the whole image. Whilst See-Think-Wonder and See-Wonder-Connect both have ‘wondering’ parts built into the routine.
Ask the Question!
A staple part of all my online and in-person teaching is asking the question ‘What are you wondering about?’ throughout the discussion. I also use ‘What puzzles you?’ or ‘What are you curious to know more about?’
I also encourage participants to wonder out loud whenever they have a thought or question. ⠀
Sometimes we even start a discussion with writing down everything we’re wondering about. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But why do this?
First of all, you are encouraging participants to make their thinking visible – whatever connections or ideas are happening in their heads, they’re saying these thoughts out loud.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Secondly, by encouraging wondering questions in your art discussions you know EXACTLY what your participants are curious about. And therefore, you always know exactly what information to add and when just by answering their questions⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
You can keep a record of all their “I Wonder” questions or theories, and use them to develop future guided programmes and art discussions that will harness participant’s curiosity.You can see if there is a pattern in which themes and subject areas people are really curious about.
When someone asks you a wondering question, think first: ‘where could I go with this?’ and then ‘What could I share now that will answer this question and drive curiosity further?’
But don’t feel obligated to answer every ‘wondering’, encourage the group to puzzle out some answers on their own too! Ask ‘What does everyone in the group think? Does anyone have any theories or ideas?’ or ‘Do you feel the same way or differently?’
Extra tips for driving curiosity and wonder…
Share your own wonders. Build a ‘culture of exploration’ when you’re with groups. Model the curiosity and wondering yourself – it’s infectious and the rest of the group will pick on your enthusiasm.
Create a Wonder Wall. Save some questions to answer later – note them down on a large sheet of paper (if you’re with a school group, ask the teacher to assist) and come back to them later on. Call it a wonder wall with questions that you can revisit at the end of the session or programme.
Follow the lead of your participants. Be flexible in your approach and be prepared to deviate from your programme goals where necessary in order to follow new lines of inquiry
Keep your themes relevant and interesting to the group that you are with – what may be intriguing to a group of teens, may not be with a group of seniors!
Allow time and space in your programme for wondering – build this in to every discussion
Actively exploring objects and artworks through thinking routines and open-ended questions, rather than just presenting information to your group. The enthusiasm for wondering in a group goes down as soon as the educator or guides gets into an extended monologue.
Keep your responses non-judgemental and neutral so that you are encouraging a community of wonderers who feel happy and confident to contribute.
Our culture seems to emphasise the importance of having answers over asking questions. However, the best ideas so often come from the curious, open and wondering mind. As Alice Walker says ‘The more I wonder, the more I love. Is wondering important to your work too? How do you encourage people to wonder in your programmes and discussions?
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