Fires In the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery

Saul Spady

Kathleen Cushman
Jossey-Bass Publishing
2010

Kathleen Cushman wonders: What can we learn from students’ nonacademic pursuits that can teach us how to make classrooms more engaging? She interviewed 160 high school students to ascertain what lights a “fire in the mind” when it comes to their passions, from playing chess to making architectural drawings. Cushman notes that her interviewees were often drawn to a new pursuit, even a new passion, by a particular person rather than the activity itself. This lends itself well to academics: If teachers can be better adult guides to the material, kids will find the material itself more interesting. But keeping them engaged is another matter and the secret seems to lie in something called “deliberate practice.” Here we can learn from “experts” in most fields. They all practice—purposefully, a lot, and with measurable outcomes. It’s not always fun, but it produces results, and the trick is to make kids see that this un-fun practice is worth it and to construct class time and homework to be “deliberate” (which for the most part they currently are not). This leads Cushman to numerous recommendations for teachers and administrators, such as don’t try to cover everything within a given topic and make performance part of learning. Acting upon these could have myriad implications: for improving teacher quality and practice, redefining “seat time” as “learning time,” and overhauling class time and homework to be more productive and “deliberate.” Buy a copy here.

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