Harnessing The Power of Student Interests

I recently read an article on KQUED Public Media’s blog that reminded me that engagement is a truly foundational principle in our move to customizing learning for our students at Messalonskee.  The post, “How to Fuel Students Learning Through Their Interests”, talks about the work of AP English teacher David Preston and his vision of “Open-Source Learning”.

One of the foundational principles inherent in customizing learning for students is the idea of truly engaging them.  A proficiency-based (also referred to as mastery-based) learning model has the potential to increase engagement as students show proficiency in standards in a variety of ways, often related to their interests, talents, or past experiences.  Marzano & Pickering (The Highly Engaged Classroom, 2011) explain what we all likely know inherently from our own experience in school, that “Student engagement has long been recognized as the core of effective schooling.”  They write that teachers must engage students at an optimal pace (not too fast, not too slow), so that they are challenged, while using the content in meaningful ways that interest them.

In the blog post Mr. Preston talks about maximizing engagement in the content by making the work relevant and meaningful.  The article describes the importance of students publishing their work (through blogging, etc), using collaborative tools such as videoconferencing to meet with professionals they wouldn’t otherwise be able to interact with, and using modern technology to have highly collaborative anytime-anywhere learning between students in the class.

Even with this approach and the amazing tools, the magic appears to come in the simple publishing/sharing of student work.  When a student publishes her own work on a blog or other medium, where it is exposed to review by the larger world, we see a tangible effect on her engagement and interest.  When students know they are creating something that will be reviewed by a larger audience they tend to find greater meaning in the work, and put their best foot forward.

Our students who attend MMTC are a wonderful example of how application can be a motivator for students, leading directly to increased engagement.  Finding ways to create these opportunities in our school is a must if we want to engage students at a deeper level.  Some key questions are: How can we open the doors for our students to challenge themselves and stretch their learning?  How can we make the content more meanginful by connecting it to the lives of our students?  Then finally, as the article illustrates: How will we provide students opportunities to demonstrate their meaning in ways that connect to the world outside the walls of our classrooms?

About Messalonskee High School

RSU18 High School, Central Maine; The EAGLES
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