Student engagement can be a challenge across the country, but students come to school with natural interest in many real world issues and ideas that naturally and authentically engage them. While not all courses have the flexibility to align to student interest, many do. If we build teacher capacity and provide conditions to re-imagine the school experience, students can learn 21st century skills through topics of their own interest. In my English classes students grow as critical readers, effective writers and judicious thinkers through researching, discussing and presenting on social issues they care about. Similarly, students could learn the themes of history by researching the historical antecedents and civic influences on the issues affecting their lives. Numeracy, environmental impact, statistics and art could all play a central, interdisciplinary role in these passion projects. And in the process, school becomes an institution through which students gain the agency to solve the questions alive in their lives.
This already happens in many of the best classrooms across the country, but this type of student-centered, interest-based learning should be the norm, not the exception.
This idea inspired by the student roundtable hosted by ASCD at Patapsco High School on October 13th.