Every child has a piece of hidden magic—often it is even hidden from themselves. When we take the time to search for and discover these pieces of magic, we find untapped learning potential.
This year, I worked with an exceptional group of young ladies. Now, when I first met them and listened to them loudly moan and groan about how much they “hated” reading, did I automatically think, “What an exceptional group of young people”? Um… not necessarily. But I did realize that in order to make a positive academic impact with these children, I needed to tap into something deeper. I needed to connect with them on a level that was personal and meaningful to them. I spent time learning about my girls, their talents, gifts, cultures, and backgrounds. All of these factors influence learning, so I knew that the more I learned about them, the better chance I would have of engaging my students in literacy.
Immersing them in reading was not an easy task, as they routinely balked at the idea of reading books, stories, and even electronic literature sources. I spent time daily trying to break down the walls they would put up. I knew they each housed pieces of hidden magic and passion, and I was determined to find this in each of them.
Then, one day at recess, I saw them stepping. They were laughing, engaged in what they were doing, talking each other through the steps, and they were GOOD. I ran to grab my camera so that I could capture the magic.
We are example-setters. If we want to lead our students to meaningful learning by igniting their passions, we must first be passionate about seeking our own learning. I shared my passions with these students– not just great books, but my family, my love of music, and my love of learning new things. I made sure they had lots of opportunities to share their passions and talents with me. I learned that they were not only talented steppers, but that they enjoyed mysteries and science. They loved music (just not country music!). Friendships and status in the school were very important to them. It took some time, but I felt us grow into a small community of learners and sharers.
As we neared the end of school, I thanked them for the opportunity to share my love of reading with them. Then I surprised them by asking them to teach me how to step. I explained that, although I have never been blessed with the dancing gene, I wanted them to share their passion with me by teaching me.
We discussed the importance of breaking lessons into small steps and the necessity of repetition in instruction when teaching someone a new skill. I also gave them permission to laugh WITH me, but not AT me. After several minutes of pre-teaching (breaking the routine into chunks), they celebrated with me as I began to grasp the step routine.
At the end of the day, we (educators) just want to know we’ve made a difference, that we’ve touched students’ lives or helped them learn. Without a doubt, tapping into students’ passions will open up avenues for deep and relevant learning, both for students and teachers.