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by Erica Fischer on Nov 20, 2017

Using Students’ Passions to Drive Instruction in a World Language Classroom

Using Students’ Passions to Drive Instruction in a World Language ClassroomSome call it “20% Time,” a concept borrowed from Google in which people spend one-fifth of their work time on a project of their choosing.  Others may call it “genius hour,” still referring to one hour out of five per week that students spend pursuing their own interests in learning.  Another term, “passion project,” is more or less self-explanatory.  Regardless of the label, the field of education is increasingly turning away from traditional models of sit-and-get, memory-based learning and turning toward learning that allows students to investigate problems, questions, and projects they are truly interested in.

Accordingly, in the September 28, 2017 #langchat, participants discussed the importance of understanding and using what their students enjoy to inform their classrooms. This discussion focused on how to incorporate students’ interests and passions in world language learning.

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Curating Students’ Passions and Interests

Discovering what students are interested in and passionate about is an ongoing process for World Language teachers. There are many ways to uncover what students are most interested in. For example, @Marishawkins said, “I curate by asking questions and giving surveys.” @SraWienhold said that she is “constantly asking students about life. Weekend talk on Monday, asking about weekend plans Friday and paying attention” are important in her classroom. @sr_connolly listed the ways in which he is able to learn more about his students. He said, “open-ended writing, reflection, [conversations] in class, connections before and after class. Passion + practice = progress.”

Using Students’ Interests to Influence Class

Students often become driven when they are interested and passionate about what they are learning. @CrookedCaddis shared that students’ interests influence the class “all the time! But most significantly when learning culture.” @Magistertalley agreed and said, “Students’ interests always influence instruction in some way, even if just what chapter to read in textbook.” @EdTechTiff gave a great example and said, “I experimented with passion projects and homework choices last year. It was neat to see students tackle various challenges.” Interest makes all the difference. @CourtneysClase shared, “if I have kids asking ‘can we learn this?’ I’m willing to make it happen! If they’re interested, it makes everything worth it.”

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Handling Different Interests in a Classroom or Level

What do you do when students are all interested in different topics or ideas? #Langchat teachers shared their strategies:

  •   @QuesnayAnali said, “Creating learning stations! This allows your students to perhaps explore new interests.”
  •   @Brennabyrd finds “having lots of choice in assignments and covering different interests at different times” to be helpful.
  •   @MlleSulewski added, “plus, how awesome is it that no matter the [language] ability, using [students] interests allows THEM to be the ‘experts’ for a while”
  •   @srtabrandt96 said, “try to group interests together – strive to get everyone engaged, they might find a new interest!!”
  •   @Sravaughnk shared, “when I taught high school I sent a quick Google form and grouped students based on survey results.”

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Incorporating Students’ Passions into Established Curriculum

It is often challenging to incorporate students’ passions, which are constantly changing and forming, into an already established program or curriculum. @SraErwin said, “I think mixing up the authentic resources you choose to use each year helps a ton with this. [Authentic resources] change all the time.” “Find whatever ways you can connect what must be taught to students’ lives/interests and make time for it,” added @Magistertalley. @PalacMrs gave the key to incorporating students’ interests and passions into curriculum- “they may decide WHAT I must teach, but I decide the HOW.”

Incorporating Students’ Interests Without Reinventing the Wheel Each Year

Students’ interests change from year to year. #Langchat participants shared how they can retain lessons that focus on students’ ever changing and diverse interests. Put the ‘creating’ in the hands of the [students]. Give them a project outline, and see where they take it. Reuse the ones that work” (@Kellycondon). @Magistertalley suggested, “have similar types of activities and story templates. Basically, prepare a mold to pour each new batch of students into.”

@SraWienhold, who has long advocated using comprehensible novels in the classroom, said, “Make Google slideshows for each novel and keep adding. [This allows for] many activity options for each chapter.”  She schedules free reading for the start of class twice a week, calling it “student choice and zero prep for [teachers].”  Finally, @Marishawkins suggested, “also coming up with general prompts for speaking/writing that allow students to express themselves with personalized vocab.”

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Thank You

Thank you to all the #Langchat participants who joined in on the discussion on Using Students’ Passions to Drive Instruction in a World Language Classroom! We would especially like to thank the lead moderator, Megan (@MlleSulewski) for her hard work in making this discussion a success!

For #Langchat summaries or to suggest a topic, visit the chat wiki pages.  Are you ready to guest moderate #langchat?  The official moderators can help you become more of a leader in this fantastic learning network!  See the sign-up sheet here.


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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