Include Student Passions and Interests

STRATEGY: Leverage and create opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests to promote personal and authentic opportunities.

Effective school leaders leverage and create opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests to promote personal and authentic opportunities for learning. These types of opportunities allow students to drive their own learning and thereby drive their own growth. What results is the implementation of a more student-centered learning framework, rather than a teacher-centered instructional framework. By designing student-centered opportunities that leverage students’ passions and interests, school leaders give their charges more control, increasing engagement, motivation, and persistence. Students who exercise control over their own learning become more self-directed, resilient, and confident, and these qualities can have a continued impact on the school culture that promoted agency in the first place. As Derek Wenmoth wrote, “[A]gency is interdependent … It’s not just about a learner in isolation doing their own thing and what suits them. Learners must develop an awareness that there are consequences for the decisions they make and actions they take and will take account of that in the way(s) they exercise their agency in learning.” Schools filled with these kinds of learners—and the educators that guide them—are vibrant learning environments, reflecting the same kinds of qualities that their students possess.

Details

When school leaders leverage and create opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests, students more actively pursue personal and authentic learning opportunities—that is, they develop agency. According to Wenmoth, “Agency is when learning involves the activity and the initiative of the learner, more than the inputs that are transmitted to the learner from the teacher, from the curriculum, the resources and so forth … When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.”

Agency and deeper learning are inextricably entwined. As Eduardo Briceño stated, “Deeper learning requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire deeper understanding and skills, and most important, they become more competent learners in and out of school. They become better prepared to succeed in academics, but also in 21st century careers and in life.”

A school with an effective student-centered approach is a school filled with authentic, focused, and active learning—and a school in which improved achievement will follow.

First Steps to Consider

When school leaders establish expectations and systems that align teaching and learning to students’ passions and interests, personal and authentic learning experiences result through more targeted, individualized instruction.

Quick wins

  • Establish and communicate the rationale and plan for leveraging and creating opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests to promote personal and authentic learning opportunities.
  • Ensure the commitment, motivation, and capacity of key stakeholders to leverage and create opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests.
  • Provide ongoing, job-embedded professional learning to support teachers with leveraging and creating opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests.
  • Establish clear expectations regarding the design and parameters of learning tasks and experiences in relation to students’ individual passions and interests.
  • Research experiences that students would find engaging and thought-provoking and explore how they might be built into the curriculum as exemplars.
  • Identify and incorporate flexible content and tools that allow for differentiation of path, pace, and performance tasks.
  • Establish frequent data collection routines to support student reflection, identify student learning needs, and inform instructional decisions.

First steps

  • Invest time in coaching teachers on how to build a culture of collaboration and self-direction in the classroom in support of optimizing student learning in alignment with their passions and interests.
  • Encourage teachers to schedule time in the instructional day for learners to set goals aligned with their passions and interests.
  • Facilitate the design of opportunities and tools for goal setting by students and include ways for teachers to track their learning progress.
  • Consider implementing a competency-based model to support and accelerate students’ progress through learning plans specific to their passions and interests.
  • Consider different grouping configurations in and outside of individual classrooms that will promote the exploration of passions, interests, and impactful experiences.

Complexities & Pitfalls

Failing to consider the implications of transitioning from a teacher-centered instructional framework to a student-centered learning framework can undermine the efforts of well-intentioned leaders. Key to the successful implementation of a student-centered learning framework is investing the appropriate amount of time and resources to the design of what a highly effective student-centered learning framework entails.

Common pitfalls

  • Absence of a clear vision for the implementation of a learning approach that leverages students’ passions and interests.
  • Underestimating the importance of building relationships with students as an entry point for teaching and learning in alignment with students’ passions and interests.
  • Teaching to students’ passions and interests to the exclusion of the required standards (believing that students alone get to decide what they learn).
  • Associating a learning framework based on students’ passions and interests as all students work on individual tasks designed for them.
  • Failing to budget adequately for potential costs associated with this type of instruction.
  • Having a lack of expertise among teachers on how to differentiate instruction according to students’ individual passions and interests.
  • Designing a learning task aligned to students’ passions and interests that is not challenging or authentic and that lacks substance.
  • Narrowing the curriculum to the degree that students’ exposure to diverse experiences becomes so limited that their ability to develop new passions or interests is hindered.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the rationale for leveraging and creating opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests to promote personal and authentic opportunities?
  • What communication strategy will be implemented to ensure widespread support for the student-centered learning framework?
  • What technology (i.e., learning management system, instructional software, etc.) will be needed to support implementation of the student-centered learning framework?
  • What information will be used to determine what learners need to know and be able to do? How will students engage in learning to address their individual passions and interests?
  • How might time be structured to engage students in conversations about their passions and interests? What systematic way might be employed to record students’ passions and interests to support lesson design?
  • How might students connect with other students who share similar passions and interests? What kinds of opportunities (i.e., extracurricular activities, extended-day programs, etc.) lend themselves to building student support systems and learning networks?
  • What systems will be implemented to support teachers with addressing required standards while also addressing individual students’ passions and interests?
  • What support will teachers need for effective delivery of instruction when a student-centered learning framework is enacted?
  • What data will be collected and used to measure growth? How often will student goals be monitored?
  • What implications are there for the learning environment, including classroom culture and behavior management, when implementing a student-centered learning framework?
  • How will the physical layout of the classroom and other areas in the school promote active engagement and exploration of individual students’ passions and interests?
  • How will meaningful, relevant tasks, resources, and assessments be selected to align with students’ individual passions and interests?
  • What types of curriculum choices will students be provided? What limitations might be implemented in relation to student choice?
  • How might service learning support the exploration of students’ individual passions and interests and promote personal and authentic opportunities?
  • How might students’ passions and interests be celebrated (i.e., learning exhibitions) to increase community (and other) connections, leading to more personal and authentic opportunities?