Tip 51: Finding and Taking Advantage of Passion

Finishing the post, I changed the title. Even now it is not as long as I wanted. I think this should be entitled “Finding Passion and Taking Advantage of It: Accessing Student Passion in the Classroom through Group Work.” But here are the thoughts that brought this blog post into being…

What are you passionate about? What do you talk about when the work is done and the relaxing has begun?

My husband will tell you I talk about school, about my students, about my assignments, about things that did and didn’t work. I also talk about papers I am writing, research I am doing, and conferences I am preparing for. And I read and talk about science fiction and fantasy. I suppose, based on those indicators, that these are what I am passionate about…

Finding Passion, by math professor Dr. Robert Talbert, is an interesting introduction to thinking about passion… in our lives and in our classroom.

He asked the question, or made the statement, that got me thinking about this post.

How can you tell what a person or small group of people are passionate about? It seems to me that there’s a two-step process:

Give those people a break and let them do whatever they want. Remove all the programming you have planned for them, just for a little bit. And then:
See what it is they talk about when there is no structure.
Whatever gets talked about, is what those people are passionate about — at least at the time. If they don’t talk about anything, they aren’t passionate about anything.

Then Talbert tied this to the classroom for instructors. Do we schedule the heck out of our students so that they don’t have time and energy to be passionate about anything?

In considering this question I made a discovery about how my own teaching has evolved that I think is a positive thing.

When I first began teaching, I avoided group work like the plague. I hated it for myself, because I always ended up doing the bulk of the work, and I hated it as an instructor, because I couldn’t tell who had done what.

However, in the interest of retention, I need to get my students involved with each other and in a community college, the only way that will happen is if I make it happen. So I began scheduling group work, in class, that requires a small bit of reading and writing.

In literature classes, I will give each group (or all the groups) a poem and ask them to read it and discuss it and write down their best analysis. You might be amazed at how good some of that can be, especially when students are bouncing ideas off each other and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which often happens.

In writing classes, when we have a reading (which we do periodically), I have the students get into groups to answer questions about the reading. I read it to them here, since I think many in the community college do not have sufficient skills to read and reading it aloud allows me the opportunity to explain the vocabulary as we go. Then I have them read the questions, significantly shorter than the essay itself, and answer them in groups. One person writes, but they all talk. If I give them sufficient time, which I don’t always do, they spend time working on it and writing excellent responses. Then it’s an in-class grade and everyone gets full credit, unless the work didn’t get done.

In humanities, I have them split into groups to discuss pre-tests on the topic we are going to be studying. It gets them pulling out what they already know on the topic, which is very useful, and helps me see what level their knowledge is at before I start teaching. They enjoy it and it gives me a break and a chance to hear how they think as well, since they negotiate their answers, usually, since none of them are experts on the topic.

Perhaps I need to be even more purposeful in adding space for the students to talk and think about their projects. Today might be a good day to talk about the frustrations and triumphs of the controversial essay, for example. Since they have gotten back a graded research paper and are revising it for a final grade on Monday.

One thought on “Tip 51: Finding and Taking Advantage of Passion”

  1. That’s what Google does for its employees. The results speak for themselves.

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