Making Time for Passion

We finally sorted out our mentoring groups for the passion pathways, today.

For weeks, students have been clarifying their Personal Vision Plans. They’ve done research on their personal goals, including viewing videos of interviews on the Naviance platform on what brought individuals to their passions, how they pursued becoming experts at learning for their fields, the obstacles they faced, the competencies that allowed them to face and break through the barriers, and how it feels like to do something worthwhile, what each learned along his or her unique journey. Our students realize that in our school, having a life goal is part of who we are.

Individual students have also identified an interest each one would like to learn more about this year. Their interests are varied. Music composition, poetry in their mother tongue, reading and writing lore, a football conditioning program, figuring out wing designs on aircraft, starting a business online…their interests are from a wide range, and not necessarily unpacked from their career plans. They’ve given themselves permission to explore and discover.

We thought it might be a good idea to mentor small groups of students with similar interests, composed of mixed grade levels, and the small group I mentor along with a colleague consists of a sixth grader, two eighth graders, a ninth grader, one tenth grader, and a senior. They are interested in publishing, blogging and working with Photoshop to design communication.

My colleague and I both had individual conversations with each student on their personal process, and what I learned about the students stunned me in a beautiful way, and helps me to understand the purpose of school.

Curiosity is not lost as children get older

Some educators have lamented that school seems to knock curiosity out of children. Does it necessarily? Maybe if school was all about exams and results, about coverage and followed tight sequences of learning the same thing in the same way, with the end point of learning being exams. Maybe there is a sort of schooling, which may suppress curiosity, and maybe there are other sorts of schooling, which nurture curiosity and nurtures its energy.

Young people are interested and engaged

There’s an opinion out there that students are overly obsessed with social media, gaming, to the neglect of much else. What we learned today makes this untrue of each student in that room. “I’ve been writing for years,” one student said, “and now when I want more readers, I need to learn about marketing. How do you create interest in what you write? Where do you find an audience? I’m following two poets on Instagram, curious about how they use images to gain interest in their words. That’s interesting.”

They know how they learn and are eager to know more about learning

One of them spoke about his learning target for the next two days, “I know how to use Photoshop but I’d like to learn more about it as a tool to create visual messages. Am I good enough to ask someone to be a client, so I could produce what they wanted? Maybe not. Maybe my research is too open right now, and I’ll figure out what the tools are and in what order to learn their function. After that, maybe I can organize my project.”

Conversation as a way to foster metacognition

Our school goal for personally relevant learning for each student needs a strong coaching culture. Through conversations, we are able to value each student’s thinking and individualize his or her process. “What are you thinking about this decision?” I asked a student when he said he decided to write in his mother tongue instead of English. He said, “I’m thinking that my real purpose is to reach young writers in my country, to encourage them to write. If I can write something in my mother tongue that an audience will read, I might inspire someone who hasn’t found their voice in our language, at their age.”

Cardboard Robot Arm
Cardboard robot arm by © Paolo De Gasperis

Here’s a snapshot of how it works in our context.

Our aims for the passion pathways are based on our school’s DNA:

  • Conceptual Learning: To provide personal time for students to undergo open inquiry throughout the school year on a topic of interest/passion and to become an expert in learning
  • Competency Learning: To provide extraordinary care through coaching and mentoring by teachers, and develop skills to approach learning
  • Character Learning: To provide opportunities to develop the dispositions of deep, powerful learning, namely, resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity (Claxton, 2008) through the passion projects

The teacher’s role during the passion time aims to enact our DNA:

  • To guide students in using questioning, sound research and learning processes, and interdisciplinary knowledge in sustaining and completing a project
  • To guide students in relevant skills to use in sustaining and completing a project
  • To mentor students in realizing their capacities in the dispositions of resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity

We’ve started building an Inquiry Learning Toolkit for ourselves. As we begin our passion projects as a community, we find useful the following for the start.

  • Question Formulating Technique – we use this resource to develop questioning with your students.
  • Approaches to Learning Skills – we use our skills continuum to support students in understanding skills toward project completion, including social and emotional skills integral to character learning
  • Mentoring conversations – we use student-friendly maps adapted from Cognitive CoachingSM for Planning and Reflecting. These are useful guides to have mentoring conversations with students, for the purpose of helping them clarify their thinking and develop metacognition necessary to learn independently.
  • Ron Berger’s Leaders of their Own Learning – all of us read this the text over the summer and it has practical advice on guiding students through independent learning projects from start to finish.

We are excited about how the passion pathways might transform us. It’s a scalable fractal of the school we want to be.

Breaking out of the factory model of education, where each person goes through school because of his or her “date of manufacture” as Sir Ken Robinson calls it, is a long way yet.

We’ve started.


Photo credits:

Broadcast by  © Wavebreakmedia Ltd. Used with permission.

Cardboard robot arm © Paolo De Gasperis. Used with permission.

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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