I recently went to a demolition derby in Maxwell, Nebraska and watched as my 8 year old daughter ran around with a bunch of boys hitting the football pads at the back of the pasture. I wondered why my child who had never had a particular interest in football would suddenly decide to take tips from a bunch of smelly boys about how to throw her body at a certain angle into these huge pads in order to be effective. At first I thought it was probably just a way for her to run off some energy but as I look back on it, I think there may be a different explanation. I think something about running into these pads looked like something fun to my daughter and that sparked her interest in football and how it’s played. Just last night, we were watching the Steelers whoop the Redskins when my daughter decided to go up to her room to play. A little while later she came down the stairs and asked what the score was! I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she wanted to know how the game was going! There must have been something about the game that drew her in.
After reading the two articles I read, I definitely can see the benefits of using passion-based learning in the classroom. In her 25 tips article, Saga advises that children are much more likely to retain information about a specific topic if it involves some emotion for them. For instance, if the children in the class enjoy playing kickball or volleyball but struggle with mathematics, it may help to incorporate the math lesson into a game of volleyball or kickball. One of the main points I enjoyed reading about in her article was that as teachers we should talk to the students about our own passions and show our own enthusiasm in order to spark their excitement. We also need to be sure to fuel our own interests outside of the classroom; if we love gardening, we need to spend time feeding our green thumb. We must always remember that even if we aren’t excited about some of our student’s passions, we shouldn’t dismiss that passion or judge the student because of our lack of interest in that passion. That is to say we should encourage them to explore their passion in learning even if it is a bore to us. As leaders in our classrooms, we need to teach students how and where to find websites, articles, and other resources that pertain to their passions. Students need guidance in how to expand their knowledge. Likewise, it is of utter importance that we show students ways that they can use their passion in everyday life, or in real-life. When kids can see their passion being brought to fruition, it gives them a sense of purpose or a goal. This in turn will lead to a thirst for knowledge.
Nigel Coutts lays out a plan for rather specifically encouraging these practices in his piece on passion-based learning. Using a “Personal Passion Project” to spark a passion for learning in students seems like a great idea. I don’t believe it would be as beneficial for children below the third or fourth grade level but if you simplify the project it may even be of some use for younger kids.
No matter how you implement this in your classroom, I feel that this is the change we need to see in our school systems and in our classrooms. I believe that students who feel they are in charge of their own learning and are at least somewhat free to choose what they are learning about will be more successful in life and will learn to be learners throughout the remainder of their lives.