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Chapter 6: Differentiating in Response to Student Interests

I hope you have been reading along with us! There are so many interesting concepts to learn and Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom.
think about with this book,

Chapter 1 is found on my blog, in June.
Check out Chapter 2 here, with Brigid (Math Giraffe)!
Here is Chapter 3, with Brittany at The Colorado Classroom!
Chapter 4 is found here at What's New with Leah!
Andrea reviewed Chapter 5 here, at Musings of a History Gal!

So, here is Chapter 6: Differentiating in Response to Student Interests!
The authors start out be sharing results of a 2006 study of 500 students that dropped out of school (in 26 different cities). The study revealed that 47% of the students left school because they did not find the classes interesting. Because of curricular and standardized testing pressure, many teachers do not link their curriculum to their students' interests.

When people are interested in a topic, they pay attention, ask questions, focus, and willingly explore sources to find out more - they are drawn in. Think about your own behaviors when you are interested in a topic. To elicit these behaviors in students, teachers need to tap into student interests. To effectively differentiate according to interests, one must consider these 4 principles:

1. Interest recruits the brain’s attention systems.  It stimulates cognitive involvement.
2. Any group of students is likely to have common and varied interests.
3. When teachers know and address student interest in the context of curriculum , students are more likely to engage with content.
4. Attention to student interests should FOCUS students on essential knowledge, skills, not divert students from them.

There is quite a lot of research to document that incorporating student interests enhances motivation and increases achievement in the long and short term. Work that interests students will be at an appropriate challenge level, and thus at their readiness level.

I was very interested in the imaging study they discussed. The study focused on motivation to learn versus motivation for money: both motivators activated the part of the brain called the putamen. However, when the motivation to learn was greater, the change in the signals in the putamen were greater. Brain activity shows us that motivation (interest) has a great effect on the mind.

The authors discussed seven themes for addressing student interests in the classroom:
1) Start with something familiar to students.
2) Help students to "see themselves" in what they are learning about.
3) Use your deep content knowledge to "craft" your curriculum.
4) Be interesting! Vary the way you the way you teach and the way you assess students; make the classroom lively.
5) Share your own interests.
6) Help students use their interests in your subject area.
7) Help students expand on the interests they bring with them - in inquiry centers, enrichment centers and independent studies.

The authors also share their thoughts for the implications of incorporating students interests for the five key classroom elements:
1) learning environment - learning is supported in an environment that is safe, challenging, and supportive. When students' interests are addressed, this type of environment is developed.
2) curriculum - a curriculum is not just a set of standards, but is a specific content that is enhanced by what the educator adds, which should include the interests of the students
3) assessment - there are 3 ways in which student interests intersect with assessment:
    preassessment - letting the teacher know student interests through surveys
   formative assessment - can help teacher gain more understanding of student interests
   formative and summative assessments - can be developed with student interests in mind
4) classroom management - as with the readiness-differentiated classroom, flexibility is critical and allows teachers to work with small groups on interest-focused activities
5) instruction - guidelines for differentiating instruction (there are many of these!):
* identify and explain, in student language, what students should know, understand, and be able to do, so that students understand the academic expectations
* use a preassessment of student interests - this can be at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of a new unit
* find small amounts of time to share your own interests with your students
* have a purpose in providing opportunities for students to share their interests; find a way to keep track of each student's interests throughout the year (like an index card for each student)
* use your knowledge of students' interests to state the essential understandings, build activities, create student groupings, incorporate anchor and extension activities
* think about ways to incorporate student interests into stories, examples, analogies, and applications in the classroom - students love to hear things that they can really relate to, especially in story form!
* remember the connection between readiness and interests
* make sure flexible groups include interest-based groups
* keep studying your content!

When differentiating with student interests in mind, the authors suggest that teachers differentiate by content, process or product. They do go into detail about ways to differentiation in each area, if you are interested in further information. Another way in which to differentiate is with "expert groups" and "sidebar studies." Expert groups sound great to me - they allow students with common interests to delve further into the topic, which enables those students to be involved in more complex cognitive processes. The authors take time to specifically outline how the expert groups are run. Expert groups complete their work during class time, while "sidebar studies," that also explore interests more in depth, take place outside of class time, often on an individual basis.

There was a LOT of information here! I do interest inventories at the beginning of the school year, but I haven't found a good way to consistently incorporate those interests into my classes. Using the content from this chapter, I will be able to create a plan to use these interests in the future.

How do you incorporate your students' interests into your curriculum?

Chapter 7  - back to Brigid!
Chapter 8 with Leah!


  1. I've always thought about how to incorporate those interests in my lessons too, but can't figure out how!

    Anisa @ Creative Undertakings


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