Through some internet Wonderland rabbit hole, I began watching a video of Seth Godin being interviewed by Chase Jarvis as part of his CreativeLive series. At about 42 minutes in he says, “Parents need to say to their kids, ‘straight A’s isn’t the point, interesting is the point.’ They need to say to their kids, ‘What project are you leading?’ They need to say to their kids, ‘What problem have you solved that’s never been solved before? Until you do that you’re not allowed to do your homework.'”
As a Fifth Grade teacher teaching in the non-graded environment of our Lower School division, I am astounded by how enculturated students are to grades and eagerly they and many of their parents will attempt to turn any specific quantitative feedback into an overarching grade, and how much that shifts the attention away from learning to performing.
And as a parent of a high school student, I get it! As a parent of a successful high school and college student, who is now finding his way creatively into an independent and meaningful life, I wish I had put more energy into insisting on what was interesting.
Sometimes I think that elementary levels have an easier time with prioritizing “interesting,” for instance, it is often the norm that students make independent choices in the content of reading and writing. It is also common for mathematics to be related to familiar objects and scenarios. Often elementary classes are led by generalist teachers who get to know them well and can connect curriculum to personal interests and strengths.
However, I know of high school teachers who provide literature choices to their students and make use of students’ exploration of this variety of texts to identify literary elements and analyze the writer’s craft. And I know of science teachers in Middle and High School who connect curriculum to students’ hobbies and sports.
But beyond any personal content connections, this strongest school move that I have experienced to support students in following their passions with depth and purpose in school has been Capstone Projects. While such projects can take many forms, those that are given valuable time and supportive resources tend to be successful. I use the term successful intentionally because the learning is powerful even when the process is imperfect and the results are mediocre or worse. These projects only fail when students are not supported in their process.
To learn more about Capstone Projects that lead to students seeing interesting as the point, check out The National Capstone Consortium.
The other thing that Seth Godin mentioned in his interview is the importance of blogging a point of view on a regular basis and advocating for moving the ball forward.