Always Leave Them Wanting More

Always Leave Them Wanting More

By Brad Wadle

Always Leave Them Wanting More 

Bradley Wadle - Assistant Director, MSEd Program

In my last post, I wrote about curiosity as a key component to becoming a lifelong learner.  I believe that curiosity is natural, so as teachers, it follows that we don’t need to worry so much about trying to instill it as we need to be attentive to those things that can get in the way.  Last time, I zeroed in on fear of being wrong as one such obstacle.  Surely, though, fear isn’t the only thing that can get in the way of an inquisitive mind.  What other obstacles are there?

I am reminded of a quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile: “The issue is not to teach [the student] the sciences but to give him the taste for loving them and methods for learning them…. Great care must be taken that it does not become a burden to him and get to the point of boredom.  Always, therefore, keep on the lookout and, whatever you do, stop everything before he gets bored…. If he questions you himself, answer enough to feed his curiosity, but not so much as to sate it.”[1]

I come from a theatre background, and this sentiment of Rousseau’s fits nicely with a pretty common stage maxim: always leave your audience wanting more.

It seems pretty easy to see that boredom is opposed to curiosity.  But if someone is curious about a certain subject, is it possible to give them so much exposure to that subject that, rather than feeding the student’s curiosity, you instead wind up boring the student? Is it possible that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing?

I’d say yes.

Imagine a wonderful dessert that’s just a little bit too big and too rich…but you don’t want to leave half of it on your plate, so you finish the whole thing…and get a sore stomach and an uncomfortable evening for your reward.  Perhaps the next time you go to that restaurant, you’ll order the dessert again – or perhaps you’ll remember how awful you felt after gorging on the whole thing and you’ll just pass.

Or, if dessert isn’t your thing, imagine going to a movie in the theatre.  It’s a great movie.  You love it.  And then it gets to the point that you think would be a perfect ending…but it keeps going.  And then it gets to another perfect ending…but keeps going.  And then it gets to another perfect ending, and now you’re starting to get irritated with a movie that, half an hour ago, you loved.  When all is said and done, you spent three hours in the theatre and wished the movie had only lasted for two.  Maybe you’ll watch the movie again if you stumble across it on cable…or maybe you’ll decide you just don’t have that kind of time to commit and you’ll change the channel to something else.

Things (including learning!) can be good in small doses.  As teachers, it can be very hard to restrain ourselves when students begin to show an interest in something.  We get excited and want to give them more, more, more!  But we don’t want to overload the students with so much today that they lose all interest in that subject tomorrow.  When our students leave the classroom, we want them bursting with questions so that their interest in a subject stays alive.  We don’t want them moaning under the weight of so much information that we’ve given them the mental equivalent of a sick stomach.

There’s a balancing act here, and it’s not necessarily an easy one.  You have to give the students enough to feed that curiosity so that they will come back for more later – but nothing is so tragic as taking something that a student wants to learn about and then killing all interest in that subject by going overboard.  If a student asks a question about a Shakespeare play that allows you to get a little bit into the history of Elizabethan England, great.  Give them a little taste, spark that curiosity – but don’t launch into a dissertation that takes you into such great detail about the Reformation and the Hundred Years’ War and how that informs religious politics as they appear in our good friend Bill’s plays that the student (a) forgets when the original question was and (b) decides that the history of England is a colossal bore.

To really make sure to foster a student’s natural curiosity, we need to make sure that it is the student who does the work in finding the answers.  The teacher can provide enough to be a launching pad for the students – but if the teacher falls into the trap of trying to provide all the answers, then there won’t be anything left for the students to ask when they leave the classroom.

 Remember: always leave them wanting more.

[1] J.J. Rousseau, Emile or: On Education, trans: Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 172.

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