I’ve been doing a lot of work with teachers and students over the past couple of weeks focused on the IPICK strategy. One of the big pieces of this strategy is “interest”. The idea is that if we read things we are interested in then we are more likely to enjoy the books we read. But…what if you don’t know your interests?
In each class I’ve taught, there has been a handful of students that no matter what you ask, what you suggest, or what stories you try to pull out they cannot name a single thing that they like. This is frustrating, but rather than throw my hands up, it has made me very curious. Why are these kids just shrugging their shoulders when you ask them what they like? What can I do (we do as a school) to support all students in exploring their interests?
Ms. Spurgeon, a 4th/5th grade teacher, came to me with this exact same noticing. She had asked students to do an “All About Me” assignment, but when it came to interests, several students came up empty handed. She wants us to do a project together this year using student interests, but we can’t start because we don’t know their interests. We decided to try another route.
We were trying to decide what kind of text would immerse students in a variety of topics while still being very accessible to a range of reading levels. I’m not really sure how we decided it, but we decided to try magazines. I don’t really subscribe to magazines any more in the library, but we have all of the Ranger Rick, Zoobooks, Sports Illustrated, etc that we’ve subscribed to through the years. I pulled out the boxes and put them all over the tables. We did a very quick overview of how we really want to think about our interests and one way we do that is by trying as many things as we can. Ms. Spurgeon talked about some foods she had tried like zebra and how she would never have known how much she liked the taste if she hadn’t tried it. We modeled what “trying” a magazine looked like. We were very specific to not read every page and were honest how we as adults often just flip through a magazine and pick out the pieces we want to read. I loved this because I saw students perk up. Knowing that they didn’t have to read the entire magazine was an invitation. They dove in and started exploring. They oohed and ahhed over so many pictures they saw, and Ms. Spurgeon and I had casual conversation with them about what they saw.
One moment stood out to me. Carlos and Carlena were looking at Kiki magazine together. This magazine features a lot of fashion and crafts. They discovered a page with a great 80’s style craft involving beads and safety pins. The safety pins were put together on elastic string to create a bracelet. They were glowing with excitement, so I told them I would take a picture of the page and send it to Gretchen Thomas at UGA to see if we could incorporate it into makerspace.
They looked a little shocked at first like, “You mean we could actually make this?” Then, right after school I got an email from Carlos asking if I could email him the picture of the instructions.
It was that moment that told me I couldn’t let this momentum go. This was a chance to empower individual students to explore a genuine interest. Who cares if it was “just a craft”? It was something they were suddenly passionate about when they had moments before been shrugging their shoulders. That weekend, I went out and bought supplies, and I emailed them both first thing Monday morning.
I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw both of them walk in during their recess to get started on their project.
They came in for 3 days in a row during recess and didn’t even want to stop for lunch.
As they’ve worked, I ‘ve shared their process via Twitter. They have watched me documenting the process along the way, and I’ve told them that they are trying something out that they might teach to others or inspire other makerspace projects.
One day while we were working, Gretchen Thomas at UGA tweeted a picture of pins that her students had made. When I showed it to Carlos and Carlena, they both smiled and said, “They’re doing that because of us?”
Another opportunity started to emerge because I saw how seeing the impact that they could have outside of our school walls was a motivator for them. Next week for Dot Day, we are connecting with Sherry Gick and her 2nd grade class. I asked Carlena and Carlos if they would share with this class how they are making their mark by being the first to try a craft in our makerspace and how they hope to pass on what they’ve learned along the way. Without even blinking, they said yes.
I have no idea where this is going to go, but I feel like I’ve tapped into something that I can’t let go. I have to keep asking myself, my students, and our teachers how we can continue to explore interests, seek out individual passions, and amplify student voices beyond the walls of our school. All of our students deserve to explore so many things to figure out what they are truly interested in.