New Slide: Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored

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?



 Related Radical Reads:

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Digital Immigrants Unite

My Kids, a Cause and Our Classroom Blog

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year


Original Image Credit239/365 No-one Really Likes Passport Photos by Andy Barrow Photography – Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on November 9, 2013

One thought on “New Slide: Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored

  1. Jeff Delp

    “I’m charged with marching every kid through a massive curriculum covering topics that are barely even interesting to me.”

    Bill…I am terribly concerned about this aspect of education. As you point out, in this era of focus and accountability it often feels like we are more concerned about random content, and trivial facts, than the development of skills that will serve our students in the future.

    What’s worse, is that this type of “educating” exacerbates equity issues. Students who have support, and are motivated will survive (not exactly the term you want to use when talking about teaching kids), while those who lack advocates and are already disengaged will experience limited success, and simply slip off the radar.

    Something needs to change. Hope that makes sense.

    Keep up the good fight buddy!

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