Assessing Students' Interests

Many excellent enrichment activities are available to help students think about their interests and the types of enrichment they would like to pursue. One way to get started is learning about student interests, to find out what types of areas students have an interest in pursuing. To help you in this process, we recommend two interest assessment devices: If I Ran the School and the Interest-A-Lyzer. For this intervention, students should be asked to complete both If I Ran the School and the Interest-A-Lyzer.

Student interests are key in choosing enrichment or acceleration options. When asked what they enjoy most about compacting, children consistently cite the freedom to select their own topics of study; conversely, their biggest objection to regular curriculum is the limited opportunity to pursue their favorite subjects.

We commonly assume that when a student excels in a given area, he or she has a special interest in it. This is not always true. Often, students perform well in a course because they've been directed and rewarded by parents and teachers. Students may also lean toward one academic area simply because they've had little exposure to others. Completing the first brief interest assessment form, If I Ran the School, provides an outstanding opportunity to discuss the students' underachievement and their opportunity to work with you on a self-selected product.

The second form, the Interest-A-Lyzer will take a bit more time and should not be rushed. You should carefully review the instructions below and give the student(s) with whom you are working some time to pursue this in the next week or two. It will provide you with an excellent opportunity to get to know him/her better.

Interest-A-Lyzer

The Interest-A-Lyzer is a brief questionnaire devised to help students examine and focus their interests. Basically, the youngsters are asked to imagine themselves in a series of real and hypothetical situations, and then relate how they would react.

The primary purpose of this exercise to identify students' interest areas is to stimulate thought and discussion. Students not only come to know themselves better, but also get a chance to share their discoveries with both teachers and peers. To ensure that students draw a true "self portrait," teachers should:

  • Tell the students that there are no grades, or right or wrong answers.
  • Assure students that their responses will be kept confidential, if they wish.
  • Instruct students to follow directions carefully, to avoid group conformity or stereotyped responses.
  • Allow students to complete the questionnaire without pressures or time constraints.

Teachers play a dual role in fostering student interests. Once they've identified general categories of interest, they must refine and focus them, then provide students with creative and productive outlets for expressing them. A child who enjoys rock music, for instance, may want to become a musician, but there are other avenues he or she could pursue as well, such as that of radio announcer or concert producer. Teachers must be sensitive to students' talents and inclinations within their fields of interest, and at the same time, encourage them to explore a range of options within those fields. Once students have completed If I Ran the School and the Interest-A-Lyzer, you are ready to pursue a number of ways to stimulate their interests.