Having spent the past month reading Michael Fullan’s Stratosphere and Carol Dweck’s Mindset, I’ve got a thousand interconnected strands running through my mind about the role that motivation and passion play in genuine learning.
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In Mindset, Dweck argues that students who see failure as the key to self-improvement — instead of as devastating personal setbacks — are the most likely to succeed. “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it,” she writes, “even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset” (Kindle Location 184).
She readily admits, however, that “sticking to it” is a whole heck of a lot easier for people who are pursuing things that they are passionate about. Nadja Salerno – Sonnenberg — the ten year old violin prodigy that Dweck spotlights in Chapter 2 — speaks about her commitment to “working the hardest for the things she loves the most” and “giving her all for the things she values.”
And in Stratosphere, Fullan pulls together the thinking of Tony Wagner, Ken Robinson and Jonah Lehrer to argue that engaging students depends on tapping into the personal passions and interests of individual learners:
“Let’s also be clear that the education revolution that Wagner, Robinson, Lehrer and others are calling for is to create a system where every student finds his or her particular purpose and passion — what Robinson calls “the element.” We have always known that purpose and passion are at the core of star business entrepreneurs and athletes. The difference in stratosphere is that every student is enabled to find his or her element.”
(Fullan, 2012, p. 32)
But here’s the hitch: As a classroom teacher, I don’t have the flexibility and freedom to give students opportunities to pursue their individual passions. Instead, I’m charged with marching every kid through a massive curriculum covering topics that are barely even interesting to me. Pair that curriculum with high-stakes tests designed to hold teachers accountable for student mastery of random collections of easily-testable facts and I’m even LESS likely to have the time and space to allow students the freedom to explore the concepts and topics that move them the most.
Doesn’t that mean we’re all completely screwed?
If we are going to demand that students learn the huge sets of isolated facts that we jam into state and district curricula, can we really be surprised when teachers struggle to create highly engaged learning spaces that are driven by passion and interest? More importantly, if we are convinced that learners are more likely to BE engaged when they are wrestling with concepts that move them on a deeply personal level, can we really be surprised when our students find today’s schools boring?
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Original Image Credit: 239/365 No-one Really Likes Passport Photos by Andy Barrow Photography – Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on November 9, 2013