How To Make Learning Relevant in Your Classroom
Students demand relevancy in their learning. As teachers, it is vital that we provide this in our day-to-day lessons and activities. At one point or another we’ve all heard from a child “When will I ever use this?” or “Why do we need to learn this?”. They want to know if it is relevant. Students are more alert and aware than we give them credit for. In my experience, questions like that are not asked to be cheeky or disruptive. Using inquiry-based learning can be an excellent way of making learning relevant for them.
Relevance is subjective. The degree to which a child finds something interesting or relevant depends entirely on their engagement. For instance, this can hinge on their willingness to learn, their personal hobbies, and their interests. As teachers, we know it can be difficult not only to teach the curriculum in a way that engages students, but to also deliver lessons in a way that helps them see why their learning matters. They have to care about what’s being taught and that can, admittedly, be a tricky feat.
Know your class inside and out
Learning as much as I can about the students I teach is so important. It allows me to get to know them on a more personal level. It not only helps me get an idea what their interests are, but also know what makes them happy, and what gets them excited.
“Getting to know you” activities at the beginning of the year are a perfect way to gain a deeper insight into what your class are into, what their hobbies are, and if you’re lucky, what might switch the proverbial “light bulb” on. Instead of this being a more child-focused activity, use the results of these activities to inform your planning. For example, if many students responded with things like “Minecraft”, or “building”, or “drawing” as an activity they like, or a hobby they have, jot that down.
Allow students the opportunity at the beginning of the year to complete a “How I Learn” quiz. This should give you a rough picture of how your class learn, and also which types of activities they might engage most with.
Provide as many “Real World” opportunities as possible
When starting a new topic or project, I ask my class what they already know. Using a graphic organizer, make notes about what they already know. (Some resources can be found *HERE*). Next, explore what they’d like to learn about a new topic. This will help to create succinct learning goals. Finally, discuss how students can share their learning. After explaining what the task is and what learning we will need to accomplish, it’s interesting to hear their versions of how to best present their findings. When you allow students to be involved in the decisions and let them take control of their learning, they have a better grasp of the lesson and become more attached to the outcome.
Putting it into Practice
Another small thing I like to do before my class delves into an investigation or inquiry project is to set the task up to mimic the parameters found in the real world. Below are some ways to thread some practical examples of “real life” application into your lessons:
1. Ask students some of these questions before they get to work:
“What kind of person might be interested in this type of project?”
“What job might this investigation be useful for?”
“Do any of your moms/dads/caregivers use “x” (powerpoint, charts, collages, video conferences, iPad apps, etc) in their work?”
2. Give students opportunities to apply the skills they learn in class to a variety of settings
This can be in halls, outside, other classes, on school trips, etc. Let students know where the materials they might need are located. Most important, discuss how to use them properly, safely, and in a mindful way.
3. Have the students “get into the mindset”
Have students put themselves in the shoes of a person who might be interested in that particular type of work. In addition, model out loud the questions that type of person might be asking themselves.
- For example, if students are creating a fact file or report about a famous historical figure, ask them to get into the mindset of a museum curator. They might ask themselves;
“How can I present the life of Queen Victoria in a fun and engaging way for children who visit the museum? What would I need to consider?”
4. Use official-sounding names
Boost you class’s desire to treat a project more seriously by tweaking the names of your projects with official names. For example, names “Engineer’s Booklet”, “Geography Survey Book”, or “Artist’s Workbook” work well. Sometimes sneaking in a professional title or swapping the wording of your activities bolsters provides a sense of relevancy to students, and reveals a level of creativity you’ve never seen before.
5. Constant Communication
Have a continuous dialogue flowing where you act as a facilitator. Don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice. The more students discover on their own, the higher the chances they’ll go above and beyond the basic requirements. It is amazing to sit back and watch the results when they truly feel that what they are learning is relevant to them.
There may be some students that take more time to adjust to the idea that what they learn in school can be relevant to them. However, the benefits of making that connection with your class, and the subsequent mindset that follows can be a real eye-opener for students and teachers alike. I hope this has given you an insight into how powerful these links can be for your class, as well as some ideas to try out in your own rooms!