At certain times of the year a kind of collective focus seems to narrow down all variation of interest. We collectively concentrate on and are occupied with one common issue. Thanksgiving, Christmas are among the most renowned of these periods, for sure. It looks like if everything and everyone is captured in a script of accepted thoughts, actions, and decisions. Do not dare to violate this script, for instance dressing Santa Claus in yellow or blue. It has to be red, green, and white, and definitely with a red nose somewhere. We like it that way. Of course, this observation is not meant to spoil the fun. It is part of how we look at things; it is our interest; why make it hard (1) .
Still, and just as a thought, could interest be challenged without causing uprising (Santa revisited, so to speak)? The question has meaning for education mainly. It points toward the issue whether teachers can break through individual interests of a student. Put differently: Can teachers support “wanting to know” , or even more philosophically: is there a true open-mindedness? One of the golden rules in teaching and instruction is to adapt to the individual interests of the learner. New learning has to be built on what is already available and in place. But what about raising curiosity by pulling down interest-dominated preferences? It seems like tearing down walls in vain, just like breaking through a Santa Clause script.
However: a thoroughly conducted study looked at how situational interest (SI) can be raised and what its effects would be. SI refers the impact external factors (presented ideas, events, situations) can have on raising curiosity and maintaining attention of the learner. It is characterized by a stage of catch & hold. The study used varying teaching activities to raise students’ interest in learning a subject. It turned out that raising SI as an influencing teaching tactic was situation specific but eventually reached consistency in maintaining attention when connected to (embedded in) individual interest.
The outcome of this study is important in the sense that one (a student, but why not everyone?) can be pulled out of the ordinary space of regular awareness and concern. The outer world, be it in the form of a teacher or a special kind of event, can “set your soul on fire”. It is a warming thought, especially for those involved in schooling, but it comes with a warning. The study indicates how fragile, that is context specific and embedded, induction from outside in is. Teachers know this: it takes time and lots of rehearsal to get things really going (2). But it is a comforting to know that students’ motivational response can be promoted by teachers and that students are sensitive to the learning environment set up for them. The cure for Santa Claustrophobia must be to get situational.
How situational is situational interest? Investigating the longitudinal structure of situational interest by Maximilian Knogler ,, Judith M. Harackiewicz , Andreas Gegenfurtner , Doris & Lewalter in Contemporary Educational Psychology 43 (2015) 39–50
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.08.004 0361-476X/© 2015 Elsevier Inc.