Student Passion and Course Requirements

Aaron Campbell (via Aaron Nelson) says in teaching ESL, start with students' passions. He begins,

Learning happens naturally as the human being grows. Fueled by curiosity, it is a process directed toward that which the learner desires most. As educators, we should trust this natural process while cultivating a nurturing environment in which the learner can grow best. In P2P approaches, we encourage students to call upon the authority within and take charge of the direction that their own learning takes. For example, when using weblogs with second language learners, it is important to give them the opportunity to decide the topics about which they are to write. To repeatedly ask students to write on weekly topics of the teacher’s choice is to direct their intellects toward subjects that have no connection to their own hearts. It becomes yet another exercise in the discipline of academic study, which bores a lot of people. If we want our students to be excited about learning, let us begin with their passions.

It's hard to disagree with this point. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder how those who teach the sciences engage their students. Do students in introductory chemistry get to study the chemicals that excite them? Of course, chemistry is not the same as learning a language. And if we can engage the student more, why not?

There are differences in the type of learning institutions and in the level of the students. For beginning language learners, it should be easy to build a course around their interests. Or, if the students are beginners in a workplace, it should not be a problem to orient the class around the English used at work. As students advance in their language proficiency, as much as possible, certainly incorporate students' majors into their writing.

But incorporating interests and passions are not quite the same. I doubt that many students are passionate either about their majors or about learning a language. At least ,I don't remember being "passionate" about learning. I do remember being "interested" in learning. Aaron's main point, of course, is that the more interested the students are in the topics they write about, the more students will engage in the activities and so learn more. But expecting passion, well, that seems to be an exaggeration.