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Can a big helping of passion improve learning?

When most people think of my home state of Iowa (if they think of it at all), passion is not usually the first word that comes to mind. Iowa is best known for its corn, hogs, soybeans, and even the Iowa Test of Basic skills. But passion? It was certainly frowned on when I was a little boy growing up on the Iowa prairie.

But then I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy of my Iowa friend Angela Maiers and co-author Amy Sanvold's new book, The Passion-Driven Classoom: A Framework for Teaching and Learning, Eye on Education, 2010. Maybe I need to re-think the Iowa-Passion connection.

Angela and Amy are (OK this one is obvious) passionate about passion in the classroom and how it is vital to closing the achievement gap. In this short, very readable and affectionately told book, the authors define passion, describe its impact, and outline a technique they call "clubhouse learning" - using individual passions to form club-like groups within one's classroom.

Research shows that most educators prefer compliance to passion in our kids despite teachers' protests to the contrary. At the same time there is growing recognition that today's students need to demonstrate creativity, innovation and flexibility - anti-compliance traits. A & A call this problem the "passion-gap" and offer three steps to closing it:

  • Know and Show Your Passion
  • Know and Show the Student's Passion
  • Know and Show the World Passion

The real strength of this book lies in the very concrete and practical suggestions for putting the passion-driven classroom theory into practice. Lessons, activities and classroom management techniques move this book from the ivory tower into the real classroom. The authors, with long histories as classroom teachers, have obviously made their own passion work for them. They also describe ways technology can be used by both teachers and students to support passion-driven learning.

In my own workshops I often ask participants to reflect on when a teacher's enthusiasm for a topic has influenced them and few have any problem describing such a situation. Most of us would readily agree that we would not suggest a book, teach a subject, or use a technology that we ourselves don't love. And we've all known kids who will never be reached through the brain, only through the heart.

The Passion-Driven Classroom articulates and makes accessible strategies to harness these basic understandings. Get the book, read it and apply it. You can thank me later for the recommendation.

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Reader Comments (4)

I am honored that you read the book and saw the practical application of putting passion into practice. It is so satisfying to know that people out there like you "get it!" Thank you, thank you, thank you. -Amy Sandvold (Passion from the Prairie...HA!!!!!!!!!!!)

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sandvold

There certainly is Passion on the Prairie, and I hope we ignited it!

We are so honored you took time to read the book and found it helpful for teachers. This really was a Passion Project for us, and our greatest hope is that it takes the "ivory tower" conversations down to a practical level that every teacher can manage.

Teachers came into this work because they loved learning and loved kids. We hope this is a path back to those core values and practices!

A & A - Love it!

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Maiers

I am an Iowa teacher. I just read The Passion Driven Classroom and am so excited about the Clubhouse Classroom! Wow! I want to enable my students to show and develop their passions. I'd love to make contact with other primary educators implementing the Clubhouse Classroom.

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Edgren

Hi Stephanie,

Glad to hear Angela's book inspired you. I hope you let her know that as well!

From a former Iowan (Sac City),


April 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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