Preparing Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions by Lisa Nielsen
10/21/2011 1:18:16 PM
A Learning OasisEach
day students enter a learning oasis where their primary focus is
discovering, developing, and pursuing passions, talents, and
interests. The artwork covered halls connect rooms where experts,
teachers, and more than a dozen partner organizations are working with
young people engaged in their craft. Dancers are dancing with Rosie’s Kids, writers are writing with editors from the Gotham Schools news service
to draft articles for publication, movie makers are working with
award winning producers to create videos, students are knitting and
crocheting clothes that they can wear or sell with the help of a local
designer, musicians are working with performers from Music Under New York
beating drums under the direction of their guidance counselor who is
expert at supporting students express emotions through music, chefs
are working with a culinary expert who has Skyped in to help students
prepare healthy and delicious meals, a custodian with a passion for
birds of prey is discovering with students how to save a nest of an
endangered species, artists are working with experts from the Studio School
to create sculptures, others prepare for chess and Scrabble
competitions, athletes are playing basketball and volleyball, and
there’s a room full of computers components and mechanical parts where
students with an aptitude for such things are fixing computers and
making robots. Understanding the basics There
are foundation classes for students to develop and strengthen their
abilities to read, write, and engage, in science, math, and social
studies in relevant ways that tap into their talents, interests,
abilities, learning style and their areas of passion. They know why they
are studying these subjects. They see the connection. With a passion
for the transportation system, Armond knows the history of his city,
state, nation, and world through the lens of the development of modes
of transportation. Context and relevance are ever present. Sabrina a
young journalist knows the same history, but sees things through the
eyes of the tablet, printing press, and digital technology. Total Talent PortfolioDuring
lunch and in the halls Principal Slatin asks, “How’s your light
bulb?” “Shining bright Dr. Slatin. Come look at the hawk’s eggs in
the nest. I’m helping save an endangered species!” Students excitedly
discuss their talents and passions often sparking interest of others.
Students and teachers are intimately familiar with their talents as
each student has a Total Talent Portfolio that provides a comprehensive picture about each student's strengths in the areas of abilities, interests, and styles. The Total Talent Portfolio
focuses on student strengths and "high-end learning" behaviors.
Although the teacher serves as a guide in the portfolio review process,
the ultimate goal of the Total Talent Portfolio
is to create autonomy in students by turning control for the
management of the portfolio over to them. Students visit their
portfolios often updating the selection of items to be included,
maintaining and regularly updating the portfolio, and setting personal
goals by making decisions about items that they would like to include
in the portfolio. Teachers use the Total Talent Portfolio as a means to differentiate instruction and effectively group students. The students love having a Total Talent Portfolio because they know it’s their personal roadmap to making their dreams come true, whatever they are. The students use their Total Talent Portfolios
to help them pursue engaging activities in areas of deep personal
interest. When discovering and exploring passions is the objective few
teachers find their student have short attention spans. In fact quite
the opposite. These students know what it’s like to be in a flow
(the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is
fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and
success in the process of the activity.) and how to do so for real
purposes. The focus of their education is NOT taking subjects like
reading, writing, arithmetic, or science. Instead they are readers,
writers, scientists, artists, poets, singers, technicians, musicians,
mathematicians. When we teach students rather than to the test Instead
of assessing students primarily with paper report cards that get
thrown in a box indicating 1,2,3’s or A,B,C’s, the focus instead is on
as principal Barbara Slatin explains, “exposing kids to a whole lot of different things and trying to get their lightbulb to go on.” When
we’re accountable for helping students discover and develop passions
the result is a win/win that results in engaged and passionate
students, and energized teachers. The Schoolwide Enrichment ModelWhile
for some, this school might sound like fiction, it is not. In fact
not only is this model taking place in affluent districts, it’s
occurring in poverty-stricken schools like The Island School in New
York City. This model of education is called the Schoolwide
Enrichment Model and with the right leadership it can happen at any
grade level in any district. Joe Renzulli who along with his wife
Sally Reis are credited for developing this model explain it this way. "The
Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) can be used as a detailed blueprint
for total school improvement. Since the SEM is based upon the vision
that schools are places for talent development, the SEM takes into
account the varying abilities, backgrounds, experiences and learning
styles of each student and capitalizes upon these strengths and
interests so that all children are able to meet their greatest
potential through an educational experience that is both challenging
and individualized."Do you think...A model like this result in increased graduation rates? A school like this may help foster the connection between the school and community? Students may be focused when doing the reading, writing, and arithmetic necessary to succeed with their passions? The boredom we see in the eyes of students and the burnt out teachers would decrease? Students in these schools will feel prepared to succeed in the world? YES! Why does this matterThis
matters because America has gotten off track. I’m a case in point. I
did as I was told with college, not a passion, as my goal. I wanted
to do well and succeed quickly. I rushed through school getting good
test scores and great grades, always graduating at the top of my
class. At 19 I stood outside of my college with a degree in hand and
no where to go. I had no idea what my talents, passions, and
interests were...and no one ever asked-or cared.
If all we want for schools is to that they be places to churn out
good test takers with scores that make it easy to judge teachers and
praise politicians, then America is on track. But when we do that we
end up with a nation of “me’s” who did all they were supposed to do
and unless they were lucky enough to stumble upon it...have no idea
what they did it for. In the end it felt like a waste of 16 years of
classes that I mostly wasn’t interested in. Why not have an
educational system with the goal of producing students who know how to
find, follow, and develop their passions? Ask any student what
they’d prefer and the answer is clear. To learn more....Listen to this ten minute video from Principal Barbara Slatin of The Island School
Slatin Tribute from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.
Check out this PowerPoint that explains the Schoolwide Enrichment Model
Cross posted at The Innovative Educator
Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator blog and Transforming Education for the 21st Century
learning network. International Edublogger, International EduTwitter,
and Google Certified Teacher, Lisa is an outspoken and passionate
advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and
national media for her views on "Thinking Outside the Ban" and
determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and
providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms.
Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping
schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare
students for 21st century success. You can follow her on Twitter
Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.
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