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The Importance Of Being Interested
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This story should begin with, "Once upon a time... " Sure, it's an old story, but it is also one of those wake-up stories for students and teachers alike. It begins with a father shaking his head, wishing he could think of a way to make his teenage son get a grip on life and stop wasting time doing nothing. Schoolmasters found it necessary to inform the parents that the boy showed no promise, no potential, and that he was lethargic and lazy. Disgusted, the boy's father told him that he was an embarrassment to his family. It was the early 1800s, somewhere in England.
After his father, a doctor, tried one more time to help the boy nurture an interest in something, he enrolled him at Cambridge, where his class schedule included the study of natural science. One day the professor took the students into the woods to study birds and other creatures crawling across the ground. Years later, after he graduated, the young man signed onto a voyage of the HMS Beagle, soon to sail for the Galapagos Islands. When he returned, he wrote a book, The Origin of Species, and signed the manuscript, Charles Darwin, the father of the doctrine of evolution. He had found something new, something that captured his interest. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Light the Fire
During a focus group discussion among middle school students, a 7th grader was asked, "What do you not like about writing assignments?" She answered with "It's hard to write when I'm not interested in the topic." Ideally, teachers could satisfy that concern by finding out what interests each student and then fashioning a training program that met each student's need. That is the ultimate in what teachers call "differentiation," or the shaping of assignments for each student instead of for the class as a whole, typically called the one-size-fits-all approach, an approach that's easy for teachers but boring for students with varied interests.
Students might sit up and listen if teachers could find ways to give them the freedom to write about topics that interest them. Teachers may have to adjust their teaching strategies, and students may have to start asking teachers to forget the one-size approach. If teachers could go along with that, they could start by asking questions instead of doling out the same directives over and over.
Today's student mind is inquisitive, creative, and ready to investigate new and rewarding ways of coming up with their own writing prompts, the kind that truly interest them. Teachers should also let students know that they have the latitude of writing about their lives outside the classroom as well as within. Teachers who realize the value of giving students the chance to pick their own prompts will discover students who are now more willing to write than they ever were. Assistant English professor Alan Howes at the U. of Michigan reminds us that... "even the genius must find his true interest before he can display his talent, and that being interested is one of the most important things in the world to every one of us."
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