Embrace What’s Going Right to Pave a Better Road to Learning

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.


Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away several books!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book.  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

6 thoughts on “Embrace What’s Going Right to Pave a Better Road to Learning

  1. This is such a timely post for me to share with my daughter’s teachers! I spent a good deal of time at an IEP meeting trying to stress how important it is to emphasize her strengths—she is painfully aware of weaknesses and suffers lower self esteem as a result. This post is a succint start toward that goal. 🙂

  2. There are some great ideas in this article.

    I think that the emphasis not only in the introductory stage but throughout the process should be on exploring and discovering what our strengths and affinities are.

    Especially with children and adolescents, these are dynamic and changing to a certain extent. As adults we can look back and analyze, both because of our place in time and our cognitive development, in a certain way what our strengths and affinities are; however the ability and methodology of children and adolescents are different and this should be taken into account.

  3. We have talked about the need to get to now our students well for the past 10 years. It is so important if we are to help them achieve at their highest potential. Today I had the opportunity to work with a group of young people that really couldn’t express what they enjoy or what they are good at. When things get frustrating it is so hard to know what it is that could make them happy and reduce their frustration so they can learn. Their teacher and I discussed the work they were doing in the room to get to know the students and be able to help them learn through out their day. As we were out in the hall helping a Student in one of our other classrooms remarked that this student was having trouble with his brain. Then said that this year his brain was working differently. This was a time to celebrate. We actually had a student who realized that brains worked differently and that it was all right. This is evidence that we our students are learning about themselves.

  4. Having benefited from your weeklong Schools Attuned for All Kinds of Minds training, I now integrate student surveys into our classroom culture. At the beginning of the school year, students participate in the “attuning process” and actively identify their strengths, affinities, and challenge areas. They then use this information during the year.

    I cannot say enough about the wonders of your program. I teach READ 180 literacy classes for 7th and 8th grade students who typically struggle with severe learning challenges. Finding out that they do have strengths is a first for many of my struggling students.

    The student surveys become an important part of their new identity by providing a foundation for learning how to harness their strengths to help them manage their weaknesses. Thank you so much for your work within schools. Hundreds of students have benefited from what your organization taught me during that week of training.

  5. I accept the 60 second challenge! My students with high-functioning autism are acutely aware of their deficits, so I consciously emphasize their strengths. Imagine the pride of a student with significant delay in math who masters multiplication tables before his classmates- I don’t have to, because I have an 8th grader who just accomplished this feat using a digital math program.

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