Guess what? Allowing students to follow their interests creates engaged learning.
The power of interest-based learning is one of those things that is so intuitive, so obvious, soooo clear — that in most of today’s public education system — we ignore it.
We used to ignore interest-based learning less in schools, but now that we know more about it, we ignore it more in schools.
Scott Barry Kaufman, writing for Scientific American’s Beautiful Minds blog last month, has one of the best umbrella-type articles I’ve read explaining the current research on the power of interests, in which he concludes:
. . . for educators and business managers who value deep, meaningful productivity, emphasis should be placed on cultivating emotional interest among students and employees, and increasing the personal relevance of learning and projects. (Read more)
Kaufman traces the educational approach of taking interests into consideration back to John Dewey, and follows interest-based learning forward to the findings of current researchers, who find that:
. . . interest is characterized by deep processing of information, effective learning strategies, academic and professional career choices and achievement, positive emotions, and a sense of being energized and invigorated. Also, when students are allowed to explore their interests and engage their natural curiosity, they expend more effort as an automatic consequence of their engagement. (Read more)
Read Kaufman’s entire article, “Interest Fuels Effortless Engagement,” and click through on the links to read the details for yourself. My summarizing them here can’t improve on Kaufman’s synthesis of the evidence about the effectiveness of interest-based learning.
However, despite the evidence, despite Dewey’s convictions, only a small percentage of educators today have the autonomy to infuse an interest-based approach into their teaching, because political and corporate stakeholders have dictated otherwise. This has resulted in a pervasive teach-to-the-test mentality in public education that serves other purposes, but certainly does not take students’ interests — or their best interests — into consideration.
Among those educators who can use an interest-based approach?
Homeschoolers. Specifically, families using an Engaged Homeschooling approach.
We can take what the research says and live it — facilitating engagement by allowing our children to develop and follow their interests, using interest-based learning as a tool of engagement.
Are you making the most of your autonomy as a homeschool parent? Have you explored how interest-based learning can work in your children’s education?
If you’re not a homeschooling parent yet, have you considered what it would be like to use your children’s interests to help them learn — what Kaufman calls “fuel” for effortless engagement?
Kaufman points out that this fuel, interest, trumps persistence (defined as “time spent on task”), which is a welcome notion to those of us who have witnessed fourth graders labor over far too many ill-designed homework exercises, until the will to learn anything is pretty much wrung out of them and they wilt over the kitchen table.
So, how? How do homeschoolers harness the horsepower of interests?
That’s the subject of my next post.