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Using Effective Instructional Strategies: Interest-Based Learning
Using Effective Instructional Strategies: Interest-Based Learning

What We Know

Varying instruction based on what students want to know and how they prefer to learn helps to create a collaborative, learner-centered climate that has positive effects on students' achievement. Such a practice requires that students be given opportunities to engage in hands-on, open-ended activities and provided with time and resources to explore their interests. It also requires that teachers seek out information related to their students' interests and backgrounds and adopt a role as facilitator, turning more responsibility for learning over to students (McREL, 2002; Stevenson & Carr, 1993; Tomlinson, 1999).

Research shows that students' affective states contribute to their achievement. To be successful, students must find instruction motivating and meaningful (Caine & Caine, 1991; Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995; Tomlinson, 1998). When students' personal meanings and connections to prior knowledge are limited, they have difficulty engaging in creative behaviors and rely on entrenched thoughts and extrinsic motivation (Caine and Caine, 1991). The value that students place on subject matter or their interest in what they learn is a force that drives intrinsic motivation (Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi, 1995). Intrinsic motivation has been shown to yield greater success than external rewards (McREL, 2002). In addition, Schiefele & Csikszentmihalyi (1995) found that interest is related to both quality of experience during instruction as well as achievement.

Stevenson & Carr (1993) recommend that students be given choices in both the content and activities that comprise their learning. Students should contribute to the planning of units and the selection of topics they study in-depth. The types of tasks and activities that students engage in should strike a balance between teacher-directed and student-directed activities. Activities should fall into one of three categories -- with all categories tapped regularly:

  • No choice -- activities that develop essential skills and are required by the teacher;
  • Guided choice -- students select from a pool established by the teacher;
  • Free choice -- students can pursue their interests and options fully.

Finally, for students' interests to be used effectively as a basis for instruction, reflection is essential. The self-direction that is required by students in interest-based learning requires the formation of personal goals -- goals identified and realized through self-awareness (Boaler, 1993).

Key Terms

Interest-based learning engages students' curiosity and motivation and promotes collaboration.

Students' affective domain consists of their emotions, interests and motivations. These factors impact on students' cognitive domain -- their abilities, organization of ideas and achievement.

Intrinsic motivation comes from the learner's own interests and satisfaction; extrinsic motivation depends upon such external factors as grades, praise or tangible rewards.

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