What do kids talk about?
When I first started reading about the Project Approach, I liked the idea of documentation -- methods where the teachers would somehow record the conversations of the kids. First this was to figure out what they talked about together to try to glean their interests and pick up on any ideas so that they could design projects around the kids' ideas, and then to record what they were saying when they were working on the projects.
I really liked this technique but don't read much about it for older kids. It certainly might be more difficult to "eavesdrop" on middle- and high-school kids, but the importance of picking up on what matters to them is no less.
I read a lot about teachers deciding on a project before school even begins. I'd like to see schools devote the first month to getting to know students through lots of activities and exposure to different things! Of course, this idea is anathema in the race to "cover the material," but there's no question in my mind that it would bear fruit in terms of producing the right intimacy between the kids themselves and the kids and the teachers.
How do teachers glean the interests of students without imposing their own notions of what students "should" be learning?