A NWP Backchannel: Rethinking Interest-Driven

I had the opportunity to present at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting at the end of last year. For the Annual Meeting, NWP used the concept of “HOMAGO”—a new term that comes from Connected Learning research and refers to the learning that comes from Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out.  Nicole Mirra and I were invited to present our research and work with youth in the Geeking Out strand–specifically, to address how our work with youth has moved us to re-think some current approaches to “interest-driven”  connected learning.

I shared some of the findings of my study into how young men develop as writers in their teen years. For this session, I focused on sharing the ways the young men participated in activities in schools, in out-of-school contexts, and online. Quite briefly, the young men used their experiences in these contexts as resources to help them achieve their developing writing purposes, preferences, and aspiring literate identities. Their invested interests in who they wanted to be as writers, what they wanted to write, and how they wanted to go about doing those activities influenced the writing practices they took up, adapted, and resisted. The young men habitually reminisced on past moments during which these desires had crystalized, as well as anticipated futures in which they’d have to negotiate these desires in their future social contexts. The young men used reminiscence and anticipation in making decisions about their writing—the whats, hows, whens and wheres. In these ways, the young men did not simply follow pre-designated pathways, learning in lock-step fashion, whether in or outside of school. To understand their development as writers, I needed to understand this interest-driven work, as the young men forged their developmental pathways accordingly.

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During the presentation, we had a backchannel open on Today’s Meet, and I thought the questions and conversation that occurred there are work a bit of focus. While I presented the above, the following occurred on the backchannel:

How often do we give students the opportunity to reminisce or anticipate? -Seth

It seems like part of our mission should be helping students anticipate positive writing identities. -Seth

Great point, Seth. And expanding the concept of what it means to be a writer. -Nicole

I like this idea of defining interest as deeper than giving “options.” Interest here is giving students space and support to find themselves. -Kate

Agree, Kate. Part of finding themselves is finding how they relate to their communities & figuring out how they want to position themselves. -Anna

Interest-driven is often spoken about as an issue of topic. We ask what youth are interested in, and we’re expecting to hear answers like, “camping,” “soccer,” or “horses.” However, from the young men I had researched with, we can see that “interest” could/should be expanded to be inclusive of how young people want to do things, such as writing, and their aspiring literate identities. On the backchannel, we discussed some of the nuances of how these interests were engaged by the young men to shape their development as writers:

Anna, how did these young men come to “find” their identities/interests initially? In what context did they first articulate them? -Seth

The young men I talked about didn’t start with a clear picture of their interests. Rather in moments of reflecting started to see patterns. -Anna

So, giving them time to find themes in their own writing collections sounds important. -Kate

Yes, Kate, I think that would be powerful. Also, helping them name those as well. Naming an interest was a turning moment.  -Anna

On the backchannel near the end of the session, we had just began to discuss pedagogies and approaches that could be taken up in educational contexts to respond to this expanded notion of youths’ interest-driven learning. Our discussion was very truncated due to the time, and so please feel free, and please do, add your ideas in the comments of this post!

How do you tap into students’ identities and interests in your work?  -Nicole

Student letters, conversations, observations -Table Jackie, Jane and Beth

The pursuits of interests often push on the boundaries of policies and curriculum in school. We can increase the ways “allowed” for young people to make meaning. -Anna

How can we help youth see that they can come to discover themselves while writing? -Table Jackie, Jane and Beth

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