While today’s data driven educational system is hard at work churning out numbers that make testing companies profitable, are easily quantifiable for politicians, and make for a nice, neat system on which to rate teachers and students, in the end, our children are often left behind with a degree in hand and no idea where to go next. In my article When passion drives instruction no child is left behind I share stories of four such students who were driven and motivated, but all they learned in school was how to do school well rather than what they might want to do in life. When grades and data are the main drivers of instruction, students learn how to get good grades. When passion drives instruction students learn to find, follow, and develop their passions. This in turn helps them discover what it is they truly want to do with their lives and empowers them with the skills to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.
Passion-Driven Classrooms that follow models such as Schoolwide Enrichment or the framework outlined in Angela Maiers new book on the topic, begin Preparing Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions right from the start. Seeing this through the eyes of a student provides valuable insight to best understand what this looks like.
Characteristics of A Passion-Driven Student
Passion driven students might have talent profiles, develop personal learning networks through face-to-face connections and through social media, study in areas of deep personal interest, create and publish for authentic audiences, and they know what they want to do with their lives. In short, they’ve been encouraged to discover and unleash their passions. To follow is a profile of a real student who was encouraged to follow his passion at a school emphasizing student talents.
Armond McFadden Profile
Armond attended The Island School as an elementary student. Like all students at his school, he was expected to find and explore his passions. For Armond this was easy. Like many young boys he had a love of buses and trains. At The Island School they paid attention to this and encouraged young Armond to learn more about transportation. As Armond came to discover, you can learn almost anything through your passion. His love of buses and trains inspired him to learn more about the history, science, engineering, math, and physics of these vehicles. At school, all his teachers knew Armond’s talents, passions, and abilities, even when there was a substitute, because like all students in the school he had a talent profile that explained exactly what his interests, talents, abilities, and preferred learning styles were. This profile could be updated anytime.
Students love having talent profiles (see samples here) because it allows their teachers to see them as individuals and together the student and teacher can customize instruction that is just right for each student. For instance, one of Armond’s preferred product styles is video, so unlike traditional education where everyone reads the same book and hands in the same report, Armond’s teachers honor his interest and product style and empower him to read about the transportation system and make videos with the help of Lou Lahana, the school Techbrarian. Just like the students, all teachers have identified talents, passions, and interests, and the teachers and students are aware of the expertise in the school. This is how Armond came to work closely with Mr. Lahana who is the resident expert in film making (among other topics).
Personal Learning Network Development
As Armond progressed through school he met others both inside and outside of school who shared his passion. This motivated him to become a solid writer, and film maker, and learn about mechanics, physics, science, and engineering. Starting in elementary school he began building his personal learning network (PLN) with others he could learn with and from. Some of those in his PLN were other students in his school. Another was his brother who helped spark his passion for buses. Armond also built a network outside of school. For example he had frequent visits to the New York City Transit Museum where he made fast friends with the docents and lost himself in the archives of primary documents, exhibits, and exploration of the New York City Transit History.
Personal Learning Network Growth Through Social Media
As Armond moved into middle school, he began using the power of social media to further build his personal learning network and develop his passion. Armond was the author of his own blog called The Ultimate Transpace and the creator of the Metro Transit Video series. He also began a photography collection of buses. He shared his work and ideas with a number of authentic audiences that enabled him to further grow his PLN by engaging in discussions, posting videos and photos on Bus Talk and on TransitStuff. He also developed a relationship with Trevor Logan, the founder of TTMG, a web-based group dedicated to providing transportation enthusiasts with online media entertainment and content surveying as one of the most frequented sites for transportation hobbyists.
These are all activities he pursues independently with the support and encouragement of his school. Armond explains that at The Island School they honored his talent and because creating AND using technology is his preferred learning style they ensure he has opportunities to use computers where he can build his personal learning network, create his videos, and learn more about his area of interest. He explains that:
learning this way is really fun and never gets boring.
In stark contrast to most students who are mainly grade and data-driven (read about grade-driven students with untapped talents here), as a middle school student Armond could clearly articulate his goals for high school.
“I want to work hard in high school to become a person who makes/creates the buses. An engineer. My talent and passion for buses has made me love school because I can come to school, get on the computer research buses, and find out how they work. I can also mix them into every class to learn more like reading and writing about buses. In science I study alternative fuel buses and how they work and what kind of fuel they use and what is the best option.”In middle school Armond explains that the engines in some of the new buses aren’t really reliable and shares,
“In the future, one of my goals is to find a way to make buses better and more reliable.”Today, Armond still loves buses, and is pursuing his passion outside of school as well as at Chelsea Vocational High School. To hear from Armond as a middle school student watch this video.
Armond from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.
If you’d like to hear from other passion-driven middle school students watch these videos and leave a comment!
Philip: Talented animator and web designer
Philip created his mom’s website. He didn’t think he’d be able to do such a good job but is proud to say the final product, The Chunky Monkey website turned out better than he would have ever expected.
-I made a cartoon that I know other people are going to want to watch and that feels really good.
Talent Profile: Phil from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.
Sabrina: Talented journalist
Sabrina has been contacted by a kids magazine and a local education news outlet who discovered her blog and have asked her to submit stories.
-I feel like I have the power to take on anything. It feels like what I’m saying matters. People actually care about what I have to say.
Talent Profile: Sabrina from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.
Eddie: Talented filmmaker
Eddie is filming and editing videos for Rosie’s Theater Kids. After I go to high school I will go to college to learn to produce movies for theater.
-Hopefully the knowledge that the community gets from watching my video will inspire them to treat our school better.
Talent Profile: Eddie from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.
Overview of a Passion-Driven School
Here is an overview of a school that fosters passion-driven students.
Talent Development at the Island School from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.