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Invest in Your Child's Interest to Learn

16/03/2015 by

When 5-year-old Jane, who loves to play school, is presented with a basket filled with workbooks, stickers, a chalkboard and other school-like materials, she exclaims, "Wow, I'm going to get really CLEVER!" This naive approach, i.e. achievement results from working with information on school-like tasks and gathering up the rewards distributed by teachers, is not just limited to her kindergarten. Many adults hold similarly simplistic, behaviouristic, "carrot and stick" views about the way interest drives motivation to learn.

Most people tend to think of the act of teaching as largely intuitive: someone knows something and then "teaches" it to others like a straightforward transmission model. However, as mountains of research now demonstrate, this notion of transmission teaching doesn't actually work most of the time.

The reality of effective teaching is much different: successful teachers link what students already know and understand to new information, correcting misimpressions, guiding learners' understanding through a variety of activities, providing opportunities for application of knowledge, giving useful feedback that shapes performance, and individualising for students' distinctive learning needs. They do all this while juggling the social and academic needs of the group and of individuals, the cognitive and motivational consequences of their moment-to-moment teaching decisions, the cultural and community context within which they teach, and much more.

Interest is an affective state that represents learners' subjective experience of learning; it represents "an integration of feelings, motivation and cognition" and is "arguably the most important form of intrinsic motivation". Interest is so fundamental to effective learning that applications of neuroscience to education begin the learning process with a motivated individual who is in a state of "relaxed alertness".

Interest is simultaneously a variable in the learning process (i.e. subject-matter specific) as well as a desired outcome of learning (i.e. a generalised concept). This explains why young children are easily distracted by new interests.

Research on interest can be divided into three broad topics:

1. Situational Interest

2. Individual Interest

3. Instructional Facilitation of Interest


Situational Interest

Situational interest is a spontaneous and short-lived interest based on the experience itself. The basis for situational interest appears to be novelty, curiosity, or salient informational content.

Situational interest is a way to capture attention in groups, such as the "anticipatory set" of a lesson. This context specific type of interest appears to have a strong effect on attitudes toward and engagement in learning. Children love a rich context of environments to elicit this interest, not limited to the multimedia world we are in today. A simple excursion to a new place with new experiences will develop situational interest too.

It is generally accepted that situational interest often precedes individual interest.


Individual Interest

In contrast to situational interest, individual interest (also called topic or personal interest) is unique to the individual; it is an enduring preference for a specific subject, topic, concepts, or an activity.

The basis for Individual interest appears to be prior knowledge, personal experience, level of skill sets and the emotions associated with the learning topic or experience. This can often be developed by matching the child’s personality (temperament) and daily experiences (from home to school to community) to explore beyond his/her preferences.

Regular trial and error with new food or tasks will enable the child to indicate his likes and dislikes. While some of these experiences may not be accepted by the child, adults should provide the full experiences a child should undergo before deciding which is appropriate or inappropriate.


Instructional facilitation of interest

Instructional facilitation of interest is all about the adult/teacher. It refers to the relative effectiveness of efforts by us to engage the learners through attention to situational and/or individual interest. This is the pivoting point where we as adults can show through our sharing (verbal) or showing (physical).

Often adults do not follow what they ask the child to experience, thus it is important “to walk the walk and not just talk”.

We can explore a variety of instructions by “walking”, “talking” and “making”, bearing in mind that every child can learn if we get them to be interested.

There should not be any “winning” or “losing” in trying new experiences. Once the child demonstrates a greater array of interests to learn different things, adults should create the situation for the individual to do it on his/her own. Do not worry about the mess or mistakes because it will only suffocate new possible interests.

Young learners are motivated to learn when they can reconcile the perceived value (i.e. reasons for doing/learning something) with the cost (i.e. expenditure of effort and emotional investment required to accomplish the learning).

Interest is such a powerful influence that, even when background variables as past achievement and parental income are not fulfilled, a youngling self-initiated interest will predict their motivation and proficiency in trying, thus building resilience for a lifetime of loving to learn.

Start building INTERESTS in the child and have a guaranteed return on INTERESTS

Prof. Dr. Eric Lim is the founder of Kits4Kids Foundation, a foundation that specialises in the education of special needs children. He also leads many international social enterprises around the world. Besides a PhD in Educational Management, he also holds a Masters degree in education, a Bachelor degree in Special Education and a Masters degree in Psychology, focusing on child psychology and counselling. Prof. Dr. Eric Lim is passionate in helping as many people as he can in spreading the love for children and humanity.