Encourage a hobby, inspire a passion

Students need teachers to help them develop their interests. Sometimes, what begins as merely a hobby can turn into a passion. The teacher is the one who fans the flames and turns that burning ember into a forest fire!

We can inspire students to pursue their interests with more gusto:

Tutor: Ask open-ended questions that help students to identify their interests.

Teacher: Assign work that helps students make connections between schoolwork and their extra-curricular activities.

Mentor: Give students an idea of the careers that are available in their field.

Coach: Challenge students to try for the next level of achievement, testing their commitment – and perhaps fueling a passion!


From believing to achieving

It has been said that, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” “If you can believe it, you can be it.” This is true, with one caveat: believing it is the hardest part.

Student beliefs about their abilities can be influenced by many factors. For example:

1. Observing a peer’s success or failure greatly influences what a student believes they can do.

2. Past successes or failures influence a student’s confidence – in the subject, himself, and education in general.

Here are some ways in which we can bolster student beliefs – in the roles we inhabit every day as educators:

Tutor: Give a student a problem they can do before moving on to more challenging ones. This will grow their confidence. But also watch for those moments when their confidence is soaring – don’t be afraid to give them a challenge and really show them what they can do!

Teacher: Bring a student to the board who is proficient – but not too advanced. Students will identify with them. When such a student succeeds, they will believe they can, too.

Mentor: Help students to find paper topics in which you know they will be successful.

Coach: Genuine encouragement goes a long way: “Good work.” “That’s great – you used the new strategy!”

Ignite Interest in Learning

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? 

 ImageA 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!

Do you believe in the SAT?

It’s SAT season again, and teenagers across the country are dreaming of #2 pencils, raw Imagescores, percentiles, and thousands of little grey circles with letters in them.  Amidst this confusion, many people forget one very obvious fact: the SAT is boring.  In fact, If you were to strip away everything exciting and fun from this world, what you would probably be left with is standardized testing.

While some people, such as crazy SAT tutors like myself, find the ins and outs of such tests oddly fascinating, most need inspiration to succeed on these exams.  I find that, before you can address these issues of motivation, you have to diagnose them.  What is it that makes the SAT so uninspiring?  My colleague Anna Menditto at George Mason University and I developed this scale to uncover hidden beliefs about the SAT that influence a student’s approach to – and ultimately success with – the test.

Pilot Study, SAT Beliefs Scale

Circle the number that best describes your beliefs about the SAT.

If you strongly disagree, circle number 1.  If you strongly agree, circle number 5.

1. The SAT has an impact on my future.

1          2          3          4          5

2. Studying for the SAT will make me a better student.

1          2          3          4          5

3. The skills I use on the SAT are of value.

1          2          3          4          5

4. The SAT is relevant to my academic life.

1          2          3          4          5

5. The SAT is worthwhile.

1          2          3          4          5

6. I am good at the SAT.

1          2          3          4          5

7. Students who get good grades do well on the SAT. 

1          2          3          4          5

8. The better you do on the SAT, the better you will do in college. 

1          2          3          4          5

9. Studying for the SAT will improve my everyday life.

1          2          3          4          5

10. I will score well in relation to my peers.

1          2          3          4          5

Variations on a Theme

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus


AP Photo/ Julio Cortez

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she


Let the River Run, Carly Simon

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



The Process of Summer

Summer is the ideal time in which to process what you learned during the school year.  “Processing” sounds boring, but it means having fun and incorporating what you learned into your own life!


Kids Building Castle, Mariann Everleye

Project learning is a great activity for the summer, because you have time to let the project take on a life of its own.  You could choose something that was interesting during the year but was left unfinished because of a busy schedule.  

Of course, visiting museums is a great way to pick up threads of learning.  Spend time in the exhibit discussing what you see.  Ask if it relates back to anything they learned in school this year.  

Creative writing is a great activity for that time in the day when its just too hot to be outside.  Setting a time limit (even 10 minutes) keeps it manageable.  

Summer camps are great too, but sometimes they can begin to feel like school, with so many activities and rules.  Make sure they have time to merely be and think and experiment!  Unstructured time can lead to interesting discoveries.  This is the time to let kids be kids!

More summer learning ideas from Barbara Dianis.

Prompting Summer



@ThatsEarth -Thanks!

The Writer

By Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house

Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,

My daughter is writing a story.


I pause in the stairwell, hearing

From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys


Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.


Young as she is, the stuff

Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:

I wish her a lucky passage.


But now it is she who pauses,

As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.

A stillness greatens, in which


The whole house seems to be thinking,

And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor

Of strokes, and again is silent.


I remember the dazed starling

Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;

How we stole in, lifted a sash


 And retreated, not to affright it;

And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,

We watched the sleek, wild, dark


And iridescent creature

Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove

To the hard floor, or the desk-top,


And wait then, humped and bloody,

For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits

Rose when, suddenly sure,


It lifted off from a chair-back,

Beating a smooth course for the right window

And clearing the sill of the world.



It is always a matter, my darling,

Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish

What I wished you before, but harder.

Real Life Opera

Real Life Opera

Having a hard time coming back from the long weekend?  This opera singer returned to the stage after receiving two lung transplants!

“Nice Try!”

By: Evelyn Gardett

Frequent praise might not be the motivator we once thought it was.  Research over the last decade has suggested that praise can actually diminish a student’s academic performance.  This New York Magazine article from 2007 paints a compelling picture of a highly gifted young boy who is actually brought down by the frequent praise he receives, and this recent Washington Post article highlights local teachers who are now using feedback related to “persistence” and “risk-taking” over achievement.

Put yourself in the student’s position.  What is your reaction when someone praises you for doing something that did not really challenge you?  My first reaction would be to tune the person out.  You might also lose faith in their opinion, or even be a bit insulted: “How stupid does this person think I am?”  Most of all, you would immediately turn off your motivation: “This will be easy.  I don’t even have to try.”

Research led by educational psychologist Carol Dweck posits that changing the way you praise students can greatly affect their motivation.  This research applies across the spectrum, to academics, sports, the arts and even personal relationships.  Dweck suggests that parents and teachers take the focus of praise off of success alone – or even worse, the elusive “intelligence” or “talent.”

This does not mean that everyone should be given an “E’ for effort, or that teachers should stop grading papers.  It doesn’t mean that we all need to start using corny psychological phrases such as, “Good effort!” or, “Wow, you really worked hard!”  Don’t worry about finding the magic phrase; just keep the emphasis on effort, not ability.  For example, if your child reemerges from his room after five minutes declaring his math homework finished, this is not an opportunity for praise.  The time to praise him is when he comes to you in frustration after working for half an hour, but then sits down at the kitchen table and works through the problem.

Instead of praising success, praise the process that leads to success.  For example, you can commend a student for keeping his binder organized, or beginning assignments early instead of waiting until the last minute.  You can also praise him for trying something difficult – even if he failed: “You’re fearless!”  Or you can reinforce resilience, even with those tried and true words of encouragement: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

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