interest-driven learning
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Interest Driven Learning at the K-12 Level

Interest driven learning is not a new revelation in the educational field. For years now, teachers have been using student interest when deciding on novels and texts to read in the classroom or when constructing lesson plans, but what does it truly mean to “teach interests”? Teaching student interest goes beyond teaching to the norm of a particular age group.

One of the most innovative and well-organized examples of teaching interests comes from Ed Hidalgo and his work at Cajon Valley School District. As Ed mentions in his Ted Talks, teachers and counselors can use several assessments to pinpoint student interests, such as the Strong Interest Inventory® assessment from The Myers-Briggs Company. The assessments tie into understanding the individual student’s strengths, interests, and values. When students have a clear understanding of these three components of themselves, they can better understand how they individually align with the world of work.

Interest Driven Learning: What is Teaching Interests Really About?

As stated earlier, teaching interests or interest driven learning goes beyond teaching to the norm of a particular age group. Something that is popular does not necessarily mean that all students will form a connection. The Fortnite craze presents a current example. A teacher could create a lesson with the Fortnite theme, but if only a small few of the class are interested in Fortnite, the teacher has lost the majority of the class. Teaching interests stimulates curiosity in students and has them seeking to learn more about a particular topic. It is common knowledge that when people are interested in something they give it their full attention. This is the general idea—tap into the students’ interest so that they become fully engaged in the topic and lesson. Differentiation by interest might seem overwhelming, but teachers will find that many students share interests with their classmates. This also has the advantage of fostering a sense of community for the classroom as students learn about similarities they share with their peers.

Pinpointing Interests

Ed Hidalgo and Cajon Valley School District use the SuperStrong® assessment (derived from the Strong Interest Inventory tool) through the VitaNavis platform to pinpoint student interests and for interest driven learning. This excellent, valid and reliable user-friendly program assists students in targeting their strengths, interests, and values by focusing on their specific interests and personality aspects that lead to finding their purpose. However, you can target student interests in another way if your access to formal assessments is limited. Begin by asking the students questions. Expose students to a variety of topics and subtopics.

Putting it on Paper

It is crucial to document student interests in order to implement interest driven learning. You should not repeat this task to the point of becoming redundant. Allow students a brief, set amount of time to write their top interests on sticky notes, and when the time is up, allow students to place the sticky notes on the board. This can even become a skill-based project by having students using mathematical or technological skills to chart, diagram, and average the results or even compile the data into a spreadsheet. At the middle and high school levels, this information could be shared with other teachers that have the students for other subjects. Schools at the middle and secondary levels would greatly benefit if teachers would share this information with peers in other subjects.

By shifting to the use of interest-based learning in all classrooms and subject areas the educational process and individual subjects become more relevant to the student. Increasing relevancy increases engagement and drives student motivation. The determining factor of how successful a student will be is the level of expectations they set for themselves. With interest driven assignments and lessons, the student can link success in school to future goals and career ambitions.

Ultimately, the more interested the students are the more engaged and even enthralled, they will be about a topic, lesson, or subject, which is the overall goal most classroom teachers strive for. When students make a connection with a topic or can fully grasp the relevance of it, they raise the expectations they have for themselves, thereby raising achievement in the process.

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