Nurturing Student Wonder to Enhance Learning

by Laurel Schumacher

I feel lucky. I teach in a school that continually looks deeply at learning. We challenge ourselves to go beyond. This school year, our school improvement plan is based on the work of John Hattie and his research on Visible Learning. We are looking deeply at learner qualities with the objective of bringing student ownership and learner capacity to our students. We want to empower our students to build and increase their learning capacity, so they have the desire to drive their own learning.

The first learner quality we are explicitly teaching is wonder. We identify wonder as the desire to be curious about something. Being a first grade teacher, my initial thought was that this would be a simple and ordinary task for first graders. They are always asking questions; curiosity at this age level seems natural and instinctive.

When I asked my students what they thought wonder was, I got a mixed bag of expected answers. It became clear to me that although I knew my students were curious and full of wonder- they did not necessarily know this about themselves. If I wanted wonder to become a quality of learning, I needed to teach wonder. I needed to build wonder in to something that my students reflected on, so it would start to impact their learning.

I started with a few key read-alouds. Two wonderful books I found to springboard the concept of wonder are I Wonder by Annaka Harris and The Other Way To Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall. Both of these pieces are rich in text and illustration and lead to very meaningful discussion about using wonder to think about ideas and what might be.


Two perfect books to enhance the idea of wonder.





Next I asked my students to be reflective about themselves in a specific way. I asked them to write about 4 concepts that I believed would lead to wonder. In a 4-box design, I questioned them to share with words and pictures: the thing they are best at, their best learning experience, the most fun thing they had ever done and one thing they wonder about. My objective with this was to ignite a sense of self and wonder. I want to teach them to become independent wonderers who can use wonder to generate ideas and perspective. I found out my students wonder about so many things I can tap in to, but even more so, I taught them to start thinking about themselves as a person who is curious and wonders about interesting things.


The 4-box springboard wonder concept-writing project.

boy-2           boy-1


Students completed the 4-box questions with intent and with purpose.



My next step was to create a wonder window in my classroom. This idea came directly from a resource I am finding invaluable- A Place For Wonder, Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. I wanted to create a place where my students could sit and wonder. I wanted to provide a place where they could look outside and wonder about the things they see, hear or notice. My objective is to teach my students to stop and wonder and question. I gave my wonder window center some guidelines. My students needed to ask before spending time at the wonder window. They couldn’t ask to go to the window in the middle of my teaching. The wonder window is for one student at a time and it is a quiet place. They were free to jot down things they wondered about on one post-it note and hang it on the wonder spot. From time to time we’d share our wonderings with each other. I am overjoyed with my students’’ desire to spend time at the wonder window. It has stayed fresh and exciting because the outside world is constantly changing. Our conversations have been rich.

wonder-window-1                  wonder-window-2


Students using the wonder window.







The place where students can hang post-it notes about their wonderings.


As I move ahead in my explicit teaching of wonder, I’m also using a web site that a colleague shared with me: I registered to get “the wonder of the day” in my inbox each morning. This resource is free and has been a great asset in our wonder discussions. Here’s a bit from the home page of Wonderopolis~

Welcome to Wonderopolis®, a place where natural curiosity and imagination lead to exploration and discovery in learners of all ages. Each day, we pose an intriguing question—the Wonder of the Day®—and explore it in a variety of ways.

Wonderopolis was created by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) in 2010, and it has become one of the most popular education sites today.

As I move forward in our school year, my hopes are that this explicit teaching of wonder will impact my students in ways that are tangible. I want them to recognize wonder as a learner quality and to use wonder to engage in thinking deeply.

An excerpt from the book by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall, The Other Way to Listen~

Do this: go get to know one thing as well as you can. It should be something small. Don’t start with a mountain. Don’t start with the whole Pacific Ocean. Start with one seed pod or one dry weed or one horned toad or one handful of dirt …

In closing, I encourage you to take a moment to view this short video on PBS. It will inspire you in nurturing wonder your classroom.

Laurel Schumacher has spent 30 years in early childhood education. She is a first grade teacher at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School, holds a BA in elementary education, MS in reading and is a certified reading specialist.


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