Cindy is a professional storyteller. How exciting to have her guest blog! Please check out her blog and follow her on Twitter (@CindyMarieJ). ~EMP
I’ll cut to the chase. I know more about Greek mythology because half my summers were spent in my father’s library than because of anything l learned in school. My sister and I read, drew, made up stories and occasionally assigned each other book reports. I know about presidents who were assassinated or had attempts on their lives, including the sociopolitical economic situation surrounding the country at those times; I know much more than about these gentlemen than any other presidents. Why? All because I directed a production of a musical called Assassins.
At one point in time I could darn near recreate a Japanese Tea Ceremony to perfection, due to another theatrical project on the isolation, discovery and subsequent westernization of Japan. I venture so far as to say that the only reason I know how to string two sentences together in a cohesive manner can be directly tied to all of the plays, classical and modern, that I saw since my youth. No writing class taught me how to tell a good story. Listening and absorbing and encouragement did.
The connecting thread seems clear: for me and many others, most of our actual knowledge can be traced to topics that we enjoy. When we investigate or research for the pure joy of it, we don’t segment our interests into distinctive subjects, say: English, Math, Reading, World History, Social Studies, Geography (if that is even being taught any longer), U.S. History….the list continues.
So why do we ask our children to learn that way?
When we are interested in something, we don’t stop when the bell rings. We learn until we are full. We stop when we are satisfied or fall asleep with a book or laptop opened to the last page of our latest obsession..
The examples continue. To me, the point is clear. Give students some creative license. Validate their interests and capitalize on them. Who cares if they read Moby Dick or Catcher in the Rye or Great Expectations or Twilight? Encourage the Dickens fans to report on the historical accuracies and inaccuracies inherent in his stories. Ask the child in the corner who only wants to doodle if he knows that many great paintings began as sketches, and what different movements in art meant for the world at those times? Have the gamers follow their favorite brands in the stock market as if they owned a share; they can learn about the company, business decisions, economics, and maybe even know enough to read a stock portfolio one day.
Integrating learning based on interest creates critical thinkers and gives importance to their interests, to the things they care about in this world. Don’t you think that might make school more exciting?
Using students interests to help them learn – that’s what it is really all about! Thanks for this post. I love your reflections on your own experiences. It took me back to when I learned the Japanese Tea Party when I reenacted it with my friends at school. So cool! I’ll never forget that.
I totally agree with let kids follow their passions. Raising my girls, I wanted them to read Louisa May Alcott as my mother had done; they preferred Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark. Thank goodness Harry Potter came along. Although it was not Little Women, it had enticing themes of good vs evil, mythology, literary devices, strong vocabulary, intricate plot developments, which ultimately increased their knowledge. I always feel that the visual arts around this book series, really created a passion for more books. It became cool to read. I think that kids know what we really value, and lately it has been tests scores. I hope it changes. I know what decorates our home or fills our albums are photos, concert pictures, homemade cards, hand made pottery, not their MCAS scores. We do have a few medals and trophies, but track and field events was our museum in high school. I felt that our community known for its arts community did not measure up at the high school level. I supplemented their music with private lessons in music and visual arts. I hope that we can advocate for them to be a part of the day, not an add on.
This is such a great way to talk about learning. Beyond integrating the arts, it’s integrating ideas and stories into learning to provide opportunities for students to feel engaged and excited to discover. I also appreciate your point about not segmenting learning! It’s seems downright anti-educational (not a read term, but you get my meaning) to isolate subjects in the way that most schools do. Geometry is not simply math – it’s also visual and spatial. History is about facts and dates, but also about story, people and culture. Thanks for the great post!
Excellent comments Cindy!