How to Help Your Student Productively Explore Their Interests

Journeys seldom happen the way we expect them to.

As high school students emerge into adulthood, they’re often expected to have a course mapped out and a final destination. But few students have the benefit of that clarity while still in high school. Most often, students have a general idea of what they enjoy doing but don’t know how to translate that into a career path.

The beauty of project-based education, particularly in a homeschooling context, is that students can begin to figure out where they want to go as they go. The project-based education model lets students get their hands dirty with specific real-world projects and “try them on”.

Students in Navigate learn about the Deciding Forward model. This model is designed for situations like the one described above: a student has some interest in different things but doesn’t have a clear destination. The Deciding Forward model helps students gain clarity about the things they’re interested in and helps them direct their goals as they discover their destination along the way.

Let’s explore the Deciding Forward model and see how it can be applied to project-based education.

Curiosity 

The Deciding Forward model starts with curiosity. What is your student curious about? Are they intrigued by a certain vocation? Do they have passions they want to explore?

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This first step in the Deciding Forward process is important. It lays the foundation for what’s going to come next. This is where your student will be setting their initial goal to pursue. 

To illustrate this, let’s imagine a student who has some interest in acting. They enjoy acting and others have told them they’re pretty good at it. They’re curious about making this a career path and pursuing it further.

Where do they start?

Perhaps they start by getting involved with a local community theater project. This is a great opportunity to continue exploring their interest in acting and get some practical experience in a real theater production!

Discovery

After they’ve made their initial step (joining a theater production), it’s time to actually learn through the work! This is the Discover phase of the Deciding Forward model. This is where the work gets done and your student learns the real skills needed for what they’ve set out to do.

Why is it called the Discover phase? Because, as your student works through their project, they’re keeping an active eye open for new skills to gain and new challenges to consider. They’re “discovering” more about the interest that got them started in the first place. They’re finding answers to their questions from the Curiosity phase.

What does this look like for our student interested in acting?

When they start the theater production they are going to grow their acting skills and learn more about acting. They’re going to practice learning lines. They may struggle with some things. Maybe parts of the work will be fun for them and others will be drudgery. They’re discovering more about their interest in acting.

Reflection

The final stage of the Deciding Forward model is reflection. And it is essential to the success of the model. 

So far, let’s review what our hypothetical student has done so far. 

They have picked up on their interest in acting and determined a plan for exploring it more (curiosity). Then they’ve actually engaged in some real-world project (like a local theater production) to learn some new skills, grow some existing skills, and get a feel for the actual work of acting.

Now it’s time to review and reflect on next steps.

Based on all that they’ve learned: about themselves, about acting, about the skills needed to succeed in acting; they have to answer the question “Is this something I’m still interested in?”

And that’s a crucial question. Do they want to continue down the road of exploring acting as a career path or do they want to explore another path? There’s no particularly right or wrong answer, but they do have to decide. Will they keep their goal and keep pursuing their original interest? Is there something else they would rather explore?

Deciding Forward

That’s the heart of the Deciding Forward model. When students reflect on their experiences, they chart the next step in their path. They either decide to persevere with their original pursuit or change direction. What they shouldn’t do is just walk away and end their pursuits.

Let’s wrap up by imagining our acting student. Perhaps they decide that their participation in the theater production has served to increase their love and passion for acting. What’s next? They can begin looking for another acting experience to help them dive deeper. 

But maybe their experience revealed to them that they don’t like performing as much as they originally thought. In this case, they should ask themselves what they want to explore next.

The Deciding Forward model is a great, low-pressure way for students to explore opportunities and gain experience and skill with the flexibility to change course if needed.

Navigate is a course for young adults seeking direction. It provides students with a decision-making framework that prioritizes flexibility, freedom, and wisdom. Enrollment opens soon. You can get a preview video series for free in the meantime.

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