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There has been so much conversation lately about engaging students in their own learning. In fact at my own school, West Langley Elementary, our mission statement has that concept right in it ... "Engaging students in authentic learning empowered by technology." And as I think more and more about what "engagement" in learning actually means, I am often drawn to the two things that motivate me to learn something - NECESSITY and PASSION.
When I think about the times in my own life where I was fully engaged in learning, it is usually one of these two ideas that is at play. When something breaks on my car (and I am too cheap pay to get it fixed), it becomes a necessity that I learn how to repair it. I need my car to get around so I find myself in a situation where I need to learn the specific skills to repair it. As an adult, I tap into the many learning resources I have. I might ask a friend who has some expertise in this area, I might find a book or "how-to" manual or go online to see if there is a teacher out there that has the specific learning I need. But at the end of the day, it is the need to learn how to fix my car that motivates me to learn.
And I would suggest that for children, necessity is an important learning motivator as well. Although they probably don't know it, there are some concepts they NEED to know and understand. As the adults in school, we have a responsibility to narrow down for students these core learning outcomes and put them in a context that helps a child understand how this learning is important or even essential to their well-being as they get older. And I recognize that there is much debate on what these core outcomes would include however, necessity is a motivator for all humans...adults and students.
The other driver in my own learning is PASSION. And this is the one I enjoy the most. When I first started to play golf, I was drawn to the game for many different reasons. There was a certain intellect to the game that appealed to me. And from this passion, I began to learn and learn and learn. Like with the car, I tended to tap into the same types of resources. I had my friends show me what they already learned, I read magazines and books and even used YouTube clips to improve my swing. No one told me I had to learn all of this. It was my passion for golf that drove me to engage in hours of study. And while many of my golfing friends would tell you it often appears that I haven't learned a thing about the game, the motivation to continue learning and improving comes from an internal passion and not based on any outside factor.
Again, I think there is a direct correlation to what happens in schools. Students have spent a lot of time being motivated by "necessity." However, we know that when a student has a passion for a particular topic, the teacher, parents, etc need to do little to move their learning along. We end up being facilitators to guide, but they want to learn. What is exciting is that educators are embracing this idea of passion as motivator for learning more and more. The rise of things like Genius Hour, Passion Based Projects and Inquiry Learning, is evidence that we are understanding the importance of passion when in comes to the learning of all humans.
And there are even times when they occur simultaneously. Or more likely, where one (necessity) precedes the other (passion). Sometimes in life we begin to learn out of necessity and that transforms into a more passion based learning. How many times have we started off by needing to fix a broken timing belt and once we got under the hood of a car discovered how much passion we had for mechanics. And then the next thing we know, we are buying old vehicles on Craigslist and spending hours and hours rebuilding them back to perfection, with incredible learning along the way.
I think when we draw the analogy to schools, this is the biggest area where motivation for learning occurs. We often introduce students to concepts they NEED to know, unaware that they have a PASSION to learn even more. And as we give them a chance to continue down the past of a particular topic, the learning for students becomes great internalized as it transitions from necessity to genuine passion.
At the end of the day, we need balance when it comes to learning. And perhaps narrowing it down to only NEED and PASSION as the primary motivators for learning may be too simplistic. But on the other hand, maybe we sometimes make it more complicated than it needs to be. What do you think motivates students to learn? Is there more than just need and passion?