Pursuing Passionate Interests Can “Spark” Success for Students

Search Institute recently released Teen Voice 2010, a national survey of 1,860 15-year-olds and in-depth interviews with 30 teens, sponsored by the Best Buy Children’s Foundation.  This report caught our attention because it highlights the positive effect of “sparks” – similar to what we at All Kinds of Minds call “affinities” – on teens’ well-being and success in school and beyond.  All Kinds of Minds has been talking about affinities for many years, but this study has done a great job exploring and articulating the value of kids’ pursuit of sparks, or passionate interests. 

The report focuses on three key strengths that influence successful teen development:

  • Sparks
  • Voice (confidence, skills, and opportunities to influence)
  • Relationships

Researchers described “sparks” to survey respondents as “interests or talents you have that you are really passionate about. When you are involved with those sparks, you have joy and energy. You are not bored, and you might lose track of time because you are so involved in what you are doing. A spark is a really important part of your life that gives you a sense of purpose or focus.”

The report explores the teens’ experiences with sparks and the people and places that help sparks grow. In this year’s study – the second of its kind – creative arts, sports, and technology topped the list of sparks.

According to the study, the power of sparks comes when three key elements (comprising the “Sparks Index”) are present:

  • You know your spark(s)
  • Your spark is important (evidenced by what you experience when doing your spark and by the amount of time you spend on it)
  • You take initiative to develop your spark(s)

While 80% of the teens in the survey indicated that they have at least one spark, only about half of them exhibited all three of these key elements. 

We know what you’re thinking: Of course it’s important for kids to identify and develop passionate interests!  But here are some key takeaways that really drive this point home:

  • Teens who exhibit strengths in sparks, voice, and relationships do the best of all on every academic, psychological, social-emotional, and behavioral outcome they studied.
  • Teens who score high on all three elements of the “Sparks Index” are more likely than their peers to work to master what they study, work up to their ability in school, and report having a high GPA.
  • 71% of respondents said pursuing their sparks has helped them to learn new things outside of school, and over half of respondents said that pursuing their sparks had given them new skills that would help them in a career. Thus, schools’ efforts to help students identify and pursue their affinities may be key strategies for boosting achievement as well as college and career readiness.
  • 76% of respondents who have a spark said that other people have “often” encouraged or supported them with their sparks, but only 32% of 15-year-olds “often” get encouragement and support to pursue their sparks from teachers.

Just think about the power teachers have to encourage their students’ pursuit of sparks!  All Kinds of Minds has long encouraged educators to leverage students’ affinities as well as their strengths.  In our recently published book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds, the authors note, “Affinities provide educators with a vehicle for personalizing a student’s educational experience and increasing motivation to engage in learning. Educators throughout the school have the privilege of not only helping students to identify areas of passion but also helping nurture those passions” (page 99).

The possibilities for helping students explore their affinities in the classroom are endless – having students research and give presentations related to their affinities, having students create a blog to write about their affinities, and encouraging students to connect their affinities to broader topics, to name just a few.  To learn more about how schools and parents can nurture children’s strengths and affinities, take a look at this article.

How have you used student affinities to make learning more relevant?  How have your students benefitted?  Share your ideas below, and check out the Teen Voice 2010 report and video!

Facebook Back-to-School Question of the Week

To help get you in the back-to-school spirit – and maybe pick up some great ideas along the way – we recently started a Back-to-School Question of the Week series on Facebook.  This is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with your virtual colleagues around some key back-to-school questions. 

Our first question of the series, “How do you get to know your new students’ strengths, weaknesses, and affinities?” sparked a lively exchange of great ideas, and we wanted to share some of these responses with you, our blog readers. 

Check back each week for highlights of the past week’s question and responses.  We hope you’ll join in the conversation by either adding your ideas to our blog or our Facebook page.

Last week’s question: How do you get to know your new students’ strengths, weaknesses, and affinities?

Responses:

“Wondering as a parent if I should write up things about my son, that I want his middle school teachers to know about him? Is helpful or just another thing for the teachers with already too much to do?”

“It’s very helpful if you provide that kind of information; I teach middle school and send a survey/questionnaire to parents so I get to know the students better; parents’ input and information is invaluable when it comes to teaching in the classroom!”

“Affinity surveys for our middle schoolers to fill out are a good way to get to know our students. There are many on the web, but can be tailored to fit the needs of individual teachers. Not only obvious questions like those about strengths, needs, affinities, but ones like where in the room do you like to sit? where do you learn best? what kind of learner are you (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc)? Answers to these questions can really tell a teacher volumes about their new students.”

“Let teachers know your child’s learning style. Do they learn through observing, reading, hands on, hearing. Do they need to sit where there are less distractions? Let them know if your child is sensitive to lights, loud noise, smells. If your child has an IEP. Be sure to let them know the best way for you to communicate with them, through notes home, phone calls, email.”

I’m a 1st grade teacher and I have my children bring in treasure bags” filled with 3 items that tell me something about them. I have each child sit next to me as I open their treasure bag and have them share with me and their classmates why they brought each item. I then take a picture of each child with his or her treasures and use them for our September scrapbook.” 

“I teach grade six and I have students fill out a sheet all about me” (this sheet has information on their likes and dislikes as well as information regarding their learning styles from previous multiple intelligence activity). Then … they each have a day designated to them where they bring in various items that help us get to know them and they decorate a small bulletin board in the classroom with these items and their sheet. They present themselves to the class and the bulletin board stays up for a set amount of time …”

“As a parent of two identified children in our system in Ontario I have found writing a letter from the student’s voice to be helpful in letting the teachers know both special interests, fears, areas of strength and weakness. I keep it brief… and I involve my kids because it is their letter to their teacher and their voice is integral to both informing and promoting self-advocacy …”

“One thing I did was ask students, using whatever production style they could best use, (write, draw, tell, perform) their ideal week in school. It gave me a great sense of what they felt they would excel at, their interests and I could infer a great deal of where they might be challenged.”

To read more, visit our Facebook page and look for our August 12th entry.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a member to view the page!  Or, if you’ve got an idea to share, leave a comment below.