The Power of Tapping Into Student Interests
Learning what are student interests are helps us create a curriculum that drives instruction that allows them to keep learning playful.
Student Interests: An Exploration
When we get to know our students interests, helps us develop a positive relationship with them. It allows our students to feel comfortable taking risks. Many see play in the classroom as a waste of time or as cute, but when we establish a good understanding of our students interests we can see that a block castle took stamina and planning to build it. These are some essential skills that our students need to learn to succeed.
How Do I Gather Data on Student Interests?
Data is the dreaded word these days. We all collect data every day in our content areas of our classrooms. Well, how do we collect the data of our students interests. By watching our students play, you can see what they like and don’t like. For instance, while our students are playing you may see that your boys enjoy playing with cars and making roads. Well, those same boys may be reading below grade level or have difficulties adding in math. What better way than to incorporate their interests into our lessons. We can pull books on cars for them to read and capture their interests. In math, we may use those toy cars as manipulatives to count and add. This is helping them develop the skills they need without them thinking its work. Here are some ways in which we can collect data during play.
Observation is one way we can collect data. Just like we observe our students during content area, we can observe during play. We learn from our students every day. We learn what books they like. We learn if they like to build or draw. All of this can be determined through observation. Here are some questions to think about when you are observing:
-When given free time to draw, what objects or scenes does the child draw?
-When given free choice to write, what topics does the child write about?
-When given free range of the library, what books does the child settle with?
-What are the child’s most common play themes in free play?
-What does the child talk about with her peers during unstructured times?
-When given free choice, what is a child most drawn to: running around, talking with friends, or drawing?
-What tasks does the child seem most engaged in? Least engaged in?
-Does the child prefer large groups? Small? To be on his own?
-What part of the room is the child most drawn to? The rug? The tables?
-What materials is the child most drawn to? What about during recess?
When we have conversations with our students, we can answer a variety of questions. We can dig deeper into what they are creating. During the first few weeks it is often hard to engage in these conversations with our students as we are often assessing to determine our students needs. Here are some ways in which we can get to know them and keep data.
-Make informal notes. Divide a sheet into 2 columns: one side will be typical assessment notes and the other will be notes about students’ interests and activities they prefer.
-While observing during academics, ask students’ “What do they like to write or read about?”
-Keep a list of who you have conversations with so you can interact with all students.
-Incorporate share time or show and tell. This will also help develop their oral language skills.
How Do I Use Student Interests?
Adapting Classroom Libraries
Take a look at your classroom library. Do the topics in your classroom library match your students interests? Is it organized with your students in mind? Let’s all think about our classroom libraries. At the end of this school, I started reorganizing my library to make it easier on my students. (I will be posting about it once I get my new classroom setup and can take pictures.) I know I may not have books that interest my students, which is normal because their interests are always changing. Here are some ways we can get books for our classroom without breaking the bank.
-See if your school will buy books. At many schools, principals need to spend money or they will lose it. They usually have to spend it in the fall or in the spring right before the end of school or they loss the money. Just ask! It can’t hurt!
-Ask local libraries. Sometimes they may donate books. Teachers can check out unlimited amounts of books in some areas. You can check them out and then return them.
-Make your own books. Take pictures, illustrate, and write your own books. Students LOVE to see their own writing published and LOVE sharing it with each other.
-Ask, share, and borrow with co-workers. I personally have tons and tons of books. Shoot, I even have multiple copies of titles.
-Scholastic Book Clubs are also a great source. When parents buy books, you receive points. Then, you can get free books with those points. LOVE that!
Adapting Provided Materials
All curriculum comes with provided materials. You don’t always have to use them. Instead of using the alphabet chart that is provided with the curriculum have your students’ create one. Those math manipulatives that they provide, use other objects to count. Instead of connecting cubes, use shaped or themed erasers or even small toys like dinosaurs. Practicing letter writing, use shaving cream on the table or squirt some paint in a Ziploc bag, zip it up, and your students write letters on the bag. There are so many possibilities.
Finding More Choice for Children
One of the simplest ways to tap into our students interests is very simple. Give them choices. When we allow them to make choices, they will be more engaged. Here are some very simple ways to allow them to make choices:
-Seating: Allow for flexible seating- floor, table, carpet, by themselves, with a group
-Writing: pencil, skinny marker, pen, colored pencil
-Topic in writing
-Topics in reading
Sometimes after getting to know our students, we may have to rearrange our classrooms to better accommodate them. Remember to be flexible!
Teacher Mindset and Language
Remember we are the example for our students. If they see us being silly, telling jokes, dancing, they will feel more comfortable doing so. When we play with our students, they are able to see more of who we are and we in turn grow with them. Get down on the ground with them and play. So much can be learned while playing with them. You are modeling for them, you are observing, and engaging with them. When planning your instruction think of these things:
-Can I use a visual or story from a topic my class enjoys?
-Is there a prop, a tool, or a movement I can use to make this more engaging?
-Is there a way to incorporate other materials I know my students will enjoy?
What are some materials or ideas that we can use in our classrooms to make them more adaptable for our students?
Don’t forget to join me on my book study on play by reading Purposeful Play. Find it HERE.