I often reference the book The Motivated Brain, by Gayle Gregory and Martha Kaufeldt, which provides an overview of what makes our brains choose to pay attention to different events and stay motivated. One of the most gratifying aspects of recent brain research is that it validates what we have always thought about progressive education: that concepts like collaboration and group work, asking questions, play, experiential learning, and choice are all essential to maximize student learning. Another vital component is finding a place for students’ personal interests to come into the classroom. I happened to be in the ethics room yesterday and was talking to Cristina Ross, who illustrated this idea perfectly with an example from her 1st grade Spanish class. Last year, the animated movie Coco came out, and her students came in with a lot of questions about the movie. In many schools, teachers might pay lip service to “talking about this later” and then continue with a long-planned lesson.
Cristina saw the interest her children displayed, however, and used that curiosity to enhance her teaching. She found a children’s book, Dream Carver, about a child who carves wooden alebrijes, brightly colored creatures that represent important aspects of Mexican culture featured in Coco. The children learned vocabulary through reading this story but also made their own toys based on their imaginations. ECFS teachers continually reinvent their lesson plans this way. While it is easier to stick to what was planned, learning is far richer when it is based on students’ interests.