Writing Program at New College
Habits of a Curious Mind
Whether taken individually or collectively, the “Habits of Mind” we have been discussing are strong indicators that students will need to take an active role in their learning process. We touched upon this dynamic when we shared the definition of inquiry taken from the Oxford English Dictionary:
The action of seeking . . . for truth, knowledge, or information concerning something; search, research, investigation, examination.
Notice how the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary foregrounds “action.” We like this definition because it suggests that inquiry is an active and necessary step in the learning process. Passive behavior won’t bring us to knowledge or truth, in other words.
Consider the image below, found at the “Inquiry Page,” a project prepared for the International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies in 2001. This simple representation of the inquiry process underscores the action-oriented, knowledge-seeking quality of inquiry:
Notice the strong verbs.
Notice also two additional points about the image above. First, notice the action word at the top of the circle: Ask. Inquiry begins with a question, your question, which will be your step in a particular direction towards knowledge, information, or truth. As you move on in the course, you will formulate a research question that will guide your inquiry.
Please note, however, that inquiry is more than an action; it is a particular kind of critical sensibility -- a habit of thought, outlook, and mind -- thus recalling once again the eight “Habits of Mind” we addressed a little earlier. Looking over that list once again you might see inquiry as an activity that springs from habits of “curiosity,” “openness,” and “creativity,” for instance.
Second, notice there is no stopping point in this cycle. Inquiry continues as questions lead to investigations, which lead to the creation of new knowledge, which we discuss and reflect upon, and which in turn leads to new questions. The semester will end, of course, and you will need to move towards answers to the questions you pose. We hope, though, you will leave this course at least beginning to pick up habits associated with a curious mind and creative approach to seeking and sharing knowledge.