We are in March Madness. Ask every basketball player when they started their quest to play basketball in the coveted NCAA Tournament. They will say they started in the 6th or 7th grade—if not before. They set their goals and aspirations at that age. They practiced with that goal in mind. In the 8th grade, they refined these efforts and, based on NCAA rules, are now being recruited by colleges—yes, that is right! They join AAU leagues, they play summer leagues. They stop doing other sport and activities and focus efforts on basketball. In 9th and 10th grades, they intensify these efforts by going on travel teams that take them across the country. They begin to narrow their choices of universities (and coaches) they want to play for. They double down on their own practices, hire private coaches. In the 11th grade they begin visiting schools, and many make “early decisions.” Take a look at the picture below...It was taken five or six years ago. Each one of them made a commitment—and it paid off.
I write this to say, if we expect our children, the future students at my university, to truly be college ready, we need to have them go through the same commitment process and exercise their mind to prepare when they are in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. We need them to set their goals and ambitions. They need to set the road map and not shy away from tough and rigorous classes. They need to “play against the best teams and players,” which means taking four years of math, two years of foreign languages, and extra science courses. They need to attend summer college opportunities (i.e., at my university, we offer the “Common Wealth Honors College,” which allows rising juniors to attend a six week semester on our campus taking courses from our professors and gain college credit) just as others attend AAU tournaments.
In addressing 6th, 7th and 8th graders, I always ask if there are athletes in the room. And I always get a “yes.” I ask, when do you start practicing for a big game? When do you start practicing to get in the varsity squad? How many of you want to play at a university and when do you start preparing for that? The day before the big game, the day of tryouts, or months and years before? They all say, months and years before....Then I say, “Then start practicing for your university experience now. Don’t view homework as a chore, but as a practice session for your chance to play in the big game, to get on the varsity squad, to get into your university of choice. Don’t view teachers as someone who is assigning you busy work, rather as your coach, as your personal coach, who is preparing you to win the game, to get on the varsity squad, and to prepare you for your next ‘game,’ which is getting that A, graduating from high school and going on to a university.” I tell them not to shy away from competition, but to embrace the challenges of life, as they will only make you better.
Our goal is to make champions—and one (and not the only) symbol of that is a diploma from a University. To do that, you must practice day in a day out, chart your course out, set high goals and expectations, hold yourself accountable, prepare and do the work. You cannot do that in your last year of high school. It starts in the 6th grade with the mindset, it continues in the 8th grade with the plan, and it is implemented each day, week, month and semester all through high school.
By Dr. Robert O. Davies
Known for his student-centered philosophy, commitment to the community, unyielding advocacy for higher education and inclusive leadership style, Dr. Robert O. Davies has served as the president of Murray State University since July 2014.
By Dr. Richard Cash - Prolific author and owner of nRich Educational Consulting, Inc.
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”
—Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist
What drives you? What makes you want to get up in the morning, to go further, to try harder? Passion! Passion is what makes learning enjoyable, interesting, and fulfilling. Tapping into a student’s passion is a sure way to engage her in learning.
American psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman states that passion is integrated into who we are and makes our learning intrinsic. Passion can take two forms: harmonious passion and obsessive passion. Those who enjoy what they do and feel in control of their work are said to be in harmony with their passions. Those who feel controlled by their passions or as if their passions conflict with their lives possess obsessive passion.
While obsessive passion may be useful when learning a new skill, Kaufman states that it is rarely beneficial. Obsessively passionate students are those who work at something only to achieve a high score or who compete only to perform better than others. Being obsessively driven can lead to inflexibility and may lead to burnout. On the other hand, harmonious passion can lead to creative ideas, resilience, and flow (the state of immersion into and enjoyment of an activity). Harmoniously passionate learners learn because they enjoy the topic and are striving to make themselves better. We want students to develop harmonious passion for their learning.
How do we help students connect their passions to learning? Here are three ways you can uncover, connect, and encourage student passion in the learning process.
Interest surveys can help uncover students’ passions. Using an interest survey that includes topics beyond the classroom or the scope of the curriculum is a great way to expose students’ passions. On your survey, craft open-ended questions such as “During free time I like to _____”; “My favorite pastime is ____”; and “I dream that someday I will ______.” Be sure to follow up on these responses by including the topics in the class content. I also recommend giving interest surveys a few times throughout the year, since students’ interests change and develop over time.
Eliminating repetition of content already mastered by students offers time for them to engage in their passions without taking time away from new learning. Curriculum compacting is often used in gifted education. I believe that all students should be exposed to curriculum compacting because many routinely experience repetition throughout their K–12 experiences. Curriculum compacting requires the identification of key content standard objectives; a thorough pre-assessment of those key objectives to identify those students with mastery (whether whole or partial); and then offering time during the instruction of mastered objectives for students to work on passions or interest topics. Look back at the interest surveys to guide students toward deepening their learning.
This is an idea I created during my years of teaching. I remember a very driven young man in my science classroom who had a solid understanding of what was going to be covered in the unit on the solar system. (Similar to curriculum compacting, I assessed him on the factual, procedural, and conceptual objectives of the unit.) Wanting to encourage him to deepen his learning about the solar system, I asked him what he would like to study related to the unit. Together, we crafted a plan for him to investigate an area of passion—nuclear reactions on the sun—and present his findings to the others in the class. I provided him time during certain lessons to investigate his passion area. He looked for books and other resources as part of his homework and brought them to school to use during science class. At the end of the unit, he presented his findings to his classmates. This presentation took the place of the final project that the other students completed.
The point of the passion project was to share just enough information to encourage others to learn more about nuclear reactions on the sun. Oh, and by the way . . . this young man was a first grader! He learned (with guidance) how to set a plan, work alone, and come up with a presentation that was engaging and interesting.
As Kaufman puts it, tapping into students’ passions is a way to inspire learning, build creativity, and encourage active dreaming for the future. It is essential that classroom learning be as exciting as the world around us is. Through their passions, students can connect content to their lives.
Find out more about Dr. Cash by visiting our About the Authors page.
Portions of this article originated in a blog post that appeared on www.freespiritpublishingblog.com. Copyright © 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. Used with permission. All rights reserved.