Have you ever asked a student to write about a topic of their interest only to get back a paper about the recent hot topic, news item, or fashionable cause? Have you been asked to tell a bit about yourself only to find yourself giving generic information that could be true of anyone?
A student’s true areas of interest are closely tied to strong emotions and memories. Assignments that draw upon personal interests tap into a student’s motivation and sense of self, thereby enabling meaningful and lasting learning. At the same time, many students avoid these areas and choose to write about something that has little meaning for them.
Indeed, many students hear the word “interest” and think into the future, considering who they will – or should – become.
True interests are those that students have discovered and pursued on their own. For example: sports, music, dance, hobbies, languages, and social activities. As many teachers know, it is often difficult to convince students to talk about these loves.
As teachers, we can help students to tie their areas of interest into their academics:
- Use student and parent conferences to identify areas of interest and brainstorm assignment topics.
- Have students compose resumes, and create assignments based on their experiences.
- Ask students to provide a rationale for their topic choices, linking them to an activity they are involved in or a goal they hope to achieve.
Of course, one-on-one work affords many opportunities to draw upon student interests. However, these interests can also be recognized in a classroom. It only takes one meaningful assignment to help draw students into their schoolwork!