Passion-Based Learning in an Assessment-Driven World

George Couros wrote on his blog that, “School is about finding information on something prescribed for you.  Learning is about exploring your passions and interests.”  In many schools today, the focus is placed on getting the students ready for next state assessment, rather than the focus being placed on creating more lessons to be student-led, passion-based, and creativity-driven.

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So, what exactly is passion based learning and why is it so important within our school systems?  The article “25 Ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom” by Saga Briggs states that:


Common sense tells us that students are more likely to learn if they are motivated by and engaged with the curriculum or project at hand. Now, hard science is telling us the same thing.  When students are passionately engaged in their learning – when they are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities – there are myriad responses in their brains making connections and building schema that simply would not occur without that passion or emotion.

Makes sense, right?  Do you remember having a school assignment that was so incredibly boring and uninteresting to you that you struggled to find motivation to complete it?  I’m a non-traditional college student, and just last semester I took a class that covered some topics that were not interesting to me in the least.  I had an assignment that required me to do in-depth research on the specifications of my computer.  Boring!  I’m not a techy person and I don’t desire to be one, so this assignment was almost the death of me.  Seriously, I know how some students feel!

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Tina Barseghian lists the Nine Tenets of Passion-Based Learning which include important key points such as:

“REACH OUT TO THE DISENFRANCHISED. We say that we want creative, passion-driven students, yet we reward the opposite. Standards-based education stifles engagement and passion in students. While drop-outs are considered to be lazy and unmotivated, many are simply not interested because they don’t understand the relevance of what they’re being taught. We’re rewarding students who are best at obedience, memorization, regurgitation, and compliance. And those who do succeed in school often don’t know what to do when they get out. We need to prepare kids to be successful in the real world, not just while in school.”

This couldn’t be more of a true statement.  I’ve witnessed bright students that are constantly getting in trouble, simply because they are bored and uninterested.  It breaks their spirits and makes them dislike school, which only adds to the behavior problems.

“INDOCTRINATE PASSION INTO THE SYSTEM. We must switch from a control narrative in the classroom to a passion narrative. While our education system allows continuity between grade levels, provides a streamlined performance metric, and “teacher-proofs” schools, assessment-based education can quell the creative process in teachers.  Lisa Nielsen writes in her Innovative Educator blog: “Are we going to lose another excellent, passion-driven teacher to a compulsory system of education that as Seth Godin so aptly expresses, ‘only values compliance not initiative, because, of course, that’s what’s easiest to measure.’” School mandates paralyze educators from taking a close look at their passion for learning.  School administrators should support teachers and empower them to be creative. Teachers and leadership, as exemplified by those from Aurora High School in Ohio, can read books like Passion-Driven Classrooms (written by panelists Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold) to discover ways to use more passion in their classrooms.  The Island School is an example of a public-financed school in New York City that’s implemented a schoolwide enrichment model focusing on talent development and nurturing multiple intelligences.”

I’ve wrote on this before, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that assessment-based learning is killing our education system.  Teachers are often held in constraints and find it difficult to move the curriculum lessons outside of the state assessment-based goals.   There needs to be healthy balance between creativity and the core subjects.  We need to move away from assessments that measure academic success by what the state deems as proficient and instead measure academic success by student growth.   

“CONNECT WITH PARENTS. Building relationships between parents and schools is crucial. George Couros says that having a pre-conference at the beginning of the school year with parents allows teachers and administrators to listen to parents talk about their kids and gives parents a chance to tell the school what their competencies are and where their expertise lies. Teachers can then create “resident expert” walls. By identifying strengths and talents of parents, parents gain a sense of recognition and human value – they feel engaged. This leads to opportunities for parents to teach topics that they love within the school.”

This is a key component to academic success that is often overlooked by our teachers and the school systems.  It is proven that parent involvement and support is a vital component in academic success.  It needs to go far beyond a few parent teacher conferences a year.  I personally would love to implement a special night once a month in my classroom where the students and their families are invited to come in and see whatever the students choose to show…whatever they are passionate about.  This may be a story they have written, a poem, an art project, a math test…whatever they are proud of.

CC by Bureau of Land Management

Are you curious as to how exactly you can implement passion-based learning within your classroom? Well, Saga Briggs created a wonderful list of 25 Ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom with my favorites being:

  • Share your own passions with your students.
  • Let students share their passions.
  • Connect students’ passions to real-world scenarios.
  • Let students take control.
  • Help connect students to a new subject through an existing passion.
  • Weave standards into passion-based learning.

Creating a passion-based classroom won’t be easy, especially with the assessment-based curriculum that is running rampant within our schools, but it’s possible if you’re driven.  Our students deserve the very best education we can give them.  We need to be a part of instilling their love of learning.  As teachers, we owe it to our students.







I'm a mother of 3 wonderful boys, a wife, a college student working towards my elementary education degree, an aspiring children's book author, an avid volunteer, and a substitute teacher. I love being outdoors, reading, spreading kindness, spending time with family, learning, and teaching.

8 thoughts on “Passion-Based Learning in an Assessment-Driven World

  1. I can relate to your thoughts about writing about topics that you have no interest in. It is not motivating at all, even as adults, I feel sorry for the students. I also feel that there are some gifted students that are not being challenged enough, and like you said they get in trouble because they are bored. That is a big issue in the schools and it needs to be addressed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My oldest son has been in the high ability learners group here in school for the past 4 years in elementary, and I see how he still gets bored. His issue is finding the work easy and rushing through it which then causes him to make silly errors. It’s like a catch 22. You have to find that balance with all your students.


    1. I couldn’t agree more! We can hope that the focus shifts to a more student-centered environment instead of the assessment-centered environment.


  2. There is a lot we could do differently with assessments. I love your ideas about finding passion. I am creating HyperDocs for my classes and hope that these will help students find passion and be in control as they work through an assignment or project. It should eliminate those that are done and bored because there is more for them to keep working on. My fingers are crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that you are thinking ahead for your more advanced students! I think they are often ignored, as the focus is placed on those that are behind.

      Liked by 1 person

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