Before we begin, let me just say I am a proponent of giving students lots of choice. But I don’t do it because I think they know best what they need or want to learn; I do it because it gives them control over a part of their education. I don’t think that students, least not middle school students, have a clue what it is they need to learn about and less clue as to what they want to learn about. Yes, I know there is a bunch of you who are already grasping the mouse to move to the next site and mumbling about how naive I am and how I have no knowledge of how kids today learn. Ask a twelve-year-old what they want to learn about. Go ahead ask them. Most likely the answer will be, “I don’t know. Nothing?”
See, sometimes it isn’t the things we want to learn about that really pique our interests. It’s the things that we don’t want to learn about and then are surprised when those boring topics are interesting.
Take Smithsonian magazine. I love this magazine. But sometimes I look at the articles and think, “Who really cares about this topic?” Like lions. They are pretty to look at, but I hate environmental, all the animals are dying stories. With Smithsonian, though, I feel I have paid for the magazine, I’m going to get my money’s worth and read every last article.
So I read about lions. Did you know that a lion’s biggest predator is other lions? That male lions form small groups that then seek and attack other prides in order to take over their territory like some gangs on city blocks? Did you know that not all lions have large manes? Tsavo lions have almost no manes at all since they live farther away from water. This article fascinated me, probably more so since I thought I didn’t care about the topic. I didn’t know enough about it to care for it.
Candice Follis also talks about the idea of loving something after being forced to learn it:
“In elementary, I hated learning math. My dad said it was good for me and would help with problem solving. Whatever, I thought. Of course, I continued to do the work but I found no enjoyment or satisfaction. By junior high, I tested high enough that I “got to” be on a math team. It was forced and I still found not pleasure. But by Calculus – my senior year in high school- I truly began to love math!”
Now I’m not sure if she would agree with everything I have to say in this posting, but that part of her writing appealed to me. Even as adults we don’t know what it is we will need to know in the future and if we only stick to learning about the things that speak to our passions, our world view will only get smaller and smaller. So yes, I make my students read certain things, things that I found interesting or that tie into another subject or are based on something that one kids in one class said they were interested in so now all 104 of them are going to read about it. Sometimes they hate it, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they even go home and learn more just to come in and teach me the next day.
I want to teach my student about what they want to learn about. But I also want to teach them just how much is out there that they can learn about.
And yes, I do the same thing for my own children. They’re too small to resist, yet.