Saturday, February 4, 2017

5 Ways to Find a Student's Passion

Finding a student's passion is never an easy task.  Today's students are different. While many assume that they are shallow and unwilling to learn, I believe just the opposite.

Today's students know so much more than we knew when we were in school.  They know what's going on in the world and realize that they have a voice.  Because of this, they are not as interested in facts that can be Googled but instead want to solve real problems.  Not word problems that they cannot relate to...real problems.

I believe that student passion is the "sweet spot" of education.  My boys play baseball and their coaches are always talking about the sweet spot on a bat.  When the ball hits that sweet spot, the ball is hit more effectively and results in the desired outcome.  The same is true for student passion. When our teaching meets their passion, the learning becomes real and our teaching is more effective.

But, how do you find a student's passion?  How do we know what they want to learn and how they want to learn it?  Here are five suggestions:

1 - Conversation.  Talk to them.  Ask them what they are into and really listen when they begin to share.  After the conversation, show your students that you listened by acting on what they shared. Make it a priority to engage them in more conversations about their passions and find ways to help them explore that passion.

2 - Observation. Watch your students.  Watch them at recess, lunch, and in between classes.  Listen to what they talk about when they don't know you are paying attention.  Students talk about their passions.  If it's truly their passion, they can't resist.  They think about it often and like to share what they know about the subject.

3 - Thrively - is a wonderful way to find out student passions at the beginning of the year.  Register your entire class at the beginning of the year and allow them to take the Strength Assessment.  In doing so, you will know what each student wants to learn about and even how they learn best.  This tool is so beneficial and so easy to use.  Thrively is also FREE!

4 - - This website helps students connect learning with skills.  Students simply choose a skill and complete challenges to earn digital patches.  I love because the skills are real-life professions and students are able to learn by doing.  Such a cool way for students to explore lots of ideas and activities as they begin to find their passions.

5 - Outside Experts - Allow students to talk to experts outside the classroom.  Making connections with what is happening in the real world will sometimes spark a passion that students didn't know existed.  Hearing how experts use the standards in the real world helps students make connections between the standards and application.  If they don't know how it applies to the real world, it's hard to justify why it is being taught in the classroom.  Sometimes, just talking to someone that is doing something really cool will ignite that spark and help a student find their passion unexpectedly.

Passion is the first step in the 6 P's of Genius Hour process.  A student with a passion is a student with a purpose.  When they find their purpose, they become engaged and begin to realize that they have the power to make a difference and solve real problems using the standards that they are learning in the classroom.

If you'd like to learn about the 6 P's of Genius Hour,  you can pre-order Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry TODAY!

Don't Assume, Ask

The definition of assume is "to suppose to be the case with no proof."  I have to say that I've noticed in education, we make a lot of assumptions.  We come to lots of conclusions with no proof other than our own discomfort or fear of failure.  Let me give a few examples of assumptions that I have heard recently...

My students can't learn that way.  They need structure and need me to guide them.

My teachers won't teach that way.  They will see this as "one more thing."

My administrator will not let me teach this way.  They will not listen if I suggest something other than traditional teaching.

It sounds crazy, but I have heard every one of these as we start to really explore and talk about passion-based learning in the classroom.  We assume that it is too open-ended for our students.  We assume that it's too much freedom and that they won't be able to handle it.   What if we are wrong? What if today's students are longing to learn by doing and realize that application is the most powerful form of learning?  What if our students have the power to change the world and we are simply stifling that power by passing out worksheets?

Teachers are ready for change.  I believe that with everything in me.  As I talk with them and share suggestions for innovation in the classroom, I hear their willingness to try something new.  I see them perk up at the possibility of finding their own passion for teaching again by doing what is best for today's students.  While it is difficult for them to stop making the assumptions, they get it.   However,  it's often easy to assume that teachers aren't ready for new.  We say things like, "they have too much on their plate already."  What if we are wrong?  What if teachers ARE ready for new?  What if they want to find their passion for teaching and do what is best for their students in spite of it being something new?  What if instead of calling it one more thing, we just called it teaching?  Because, let's be honest.  If our classrooms aren't changing, something is wrong.  Assuming that comfortable is beneficial for anyone in education right now is dangerous.  That comfort and lack of desire to change will eventually lead to irrelevance.

Assuming administration will react in a specific way is simply fear.  Advocating for what students need is a huge part of being a classroom teacher.  As administrators, it's important to not only listen, but try to understand why change is important and the impact it will have on the students.  While it is very appropriate to ask questions and learn more about what is being shared, it's not okay to assume it will not work.  It's also not okay to assume that administration will not listen to new ideas or be open to listening to innovative ideas and strategies to use in the classroom.

So, let's stop assuming.  Stop assuming that a student's potential is based on how well they play school.  Stop assuming that teachers are unwilling to change.  Stop assuming that administrators are resistant to new ideas.

Stop assuming and just ask.  Ask your students how they learn best.  Ask them what they want the classroom to look like and what will help them best learn the standards that need to be taught.  Ask your teachers what will help them implement new ideas and what support they need to try new things.  Ask your administrator what they need from you as you achieve change in your classroom. Encourage them to visit often and ask questions instead of making assumptions about how something is being done.

Mark Twain said, "It is wiser to find out than to suppose."  Nothing could be truer in education right now.  Let's find out instead of making assumptions that benefit no one.  Find out by asking and listening to your students, teachers, and your administration.  In doing so, the assumptions will start to disappear and we will find out what is truly needed today's classrooms.