By Michele Robinson, Director of Special Projects at All Kinds of Minds and co-author of Schools for All Kinds of Minds
Grab a pen or pencil.
Off the top of your head, list 3-4 of your strengths – those things you do well with relative ease.
Now list 3-4 affinities – those activities or topics you love to do or learn about. (You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to have a passion for it.)
Look back at your lists. To what extent do your strengths and affinities influence your choices as an adult … your career decisions, your hobbies, how you spend your time?
Tapping into our Strengths and Affinities
As adults, we often find ourselves drawn to tasks or activities that play to our strengths. Perhaps you chose to pursue a career in physical education because you excelled in sports and are passionate about helping students understand the value of physical activity throughout life. Or maybe you’re involved in civic organizations because you enjoy the relationships you develop with others and are good at organizing events.
Certainly some aspects of our work and life require us to engage in tasks that aren’t an area of strength, but chances are you generally choose to spend time doing things that play to your strengths, and likely your affinities.
How Leveraging Students’ Assets Improves Learning
What about your students? Within the context of a typical school day, where do opportunities exist for them to develop and leverage their strengths and affinities? A foundational cornerstone of All Kinds of Minds is a focus on assets – those strengths and affinities that are part of each person’s unique profile and that influence choices we make and how we learn.
A foundational cornerstone of All Kinds of Minds is a focus on assets – those strengths and affinities that are part of each person’s unique profile and that influence choices we make and how we learn.
As we discuss in Chapter 5 of Schools for All Kinds of Minds, “Building on Student Assets,” we believe that educators have a responsibility to continually search for what is going right for students (strengths) and to help student discover their natural passions or interests (affinities). Sometimes these strengths and affinities become evident over time, like when a student realizes that information is easier to understand when it is presented graphically (like in a concept map) and that she is really good at reading maps (both of which are evidence of strengths in spatial ordering).
Discovering your Students’ Assets – The 60-Second Challenge
Teachers can also initiate intentional conversations with students about strengths and affinities, using activities like the 60-Second Challenge:
Give every student one minute of your attention each week just to explore their strengths and affinities. Here are some questions to get you started:
- If you were to design the perfect day, what would you be doing?
- What parts of school are easiest for you? Why?
- If you could choose the topic of our lesson tomorrow, what would it be?
- For a class project, you have a choice of writing a book report, building a model, or acting out a skit. Which do you prefer?
Paying attention to strengths and affinities can make a difference in how students feel about school and their ability to learn. So, once you have a sense of a student’s strengths and affinities, what do you do with that information?
Incorporating Student Strengths into Instructional Decisions
Knowing a student’s strengths can inform instructional decisions. Take, for example, a student with strengths in spatial ordering and fine motor function who creates wonderful drawings but is struggling to sequence the events of a narrative story. One strategy to help him with sequencing more effectively (and reduce his frustration!) might be to have him first develop storyboards of the events before writing the paragraphs.
Why Using Student Interests to Personalize Instruction Can Make a World of Difference
Knowledge of a student’s affinities provides a vehicle for personalizing her educational experience and increasing her motivation to learn. For example, when assessing a skill (vs. assessing content knowledge), allowing students to choose their own topic for a report or project based on an affinity can make the task more engaging.
These are just a few examples of ways you can tap into your students’ strengths and affinities to help promote their success in school. The book includes many more examples of how teachers can – and are – discovering student assets and incorporating them into their instructional approach.
How are you nurturing and leveraging your students’ strengths and affinities? How do your students respond? Share your ideas and experiences!
To learn more about Schools for All Kinds of Minds, read book excerpts, purchase the book, download book extras, and more, visit the Schools for All Kinds of Minds website.
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