Relevance Captured in a Simple Graphic
We can make it more complicated, but this is what it boils down to, especially for teachers and parents.
Like every human being on the planet, students crave relevance. They yearn for their learning and experiences at school to be meaningful. Teachers face this challenge every day, and it can be a daunting challenge. The curriculum standards are formidable and textbooks can be over 1,000 pages long, yet from within these resources teachers must find relevance.
Choice theory reminds us that relevance is need-satisfying. It meets our need for power and success when we are immersed in something that matters to us. It also meets our need for joy. It is just plain fun to be involved in an interesting, relevant project.
Relevance is so important that when, as teachers, we go about creating lesson plans, whether on a Friday afternoon or a Sunday evening, if we cannot see that relevant link between the topic and the students, then we need to let that topic go and move on to a topic in which we can find the relevance link. Teaching irrelevant topics is a waste of time. Teachers should always strive to find relevance, but when they can’t find it they need to feel that they have permission to find a topic that is relevant.
Quick ideas that add relevance to common topics –
Write a series of story problems for others to solve.
Do a survey of students’ likes and dislikes and then graph the results.
Learn addition and subtraction through drum beats.
Learn to read, write, and decipher code language.
Play vocabulary words “Pictionary.”
Use a “human graph” to see where a group stands on an issue
Find examples where “history repeated itself.”
Have imaginary talks or interviews with people from the past.
Hold a historical period / costume / food day.
Science / Health
Make up an imaginary conversation between parts of the body.
Create the rotation of planets with the class as the solar system.
Find five different ways to classify a collection of leaves.
Without relevance, teaching can be drudgery; with relevance, teaching can be a blast!
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Jim re the Venn diagram: there would actually be more sets/circles because students are so varied and complicated and teachers have so much for which they are responsible. These days teachers are both burdened and directed by curriculum standards (remember it’s derived from the Greek word which means going around and around in circles) and what they are supposed to assure boards and the public about what they’re teaching. There are so many wonderful examples; one which occurs to me is the notion of portage. When teaching about Indians in Maine, a teacher in “the Orphan Train” asked students about their own journeys: what is important enough to take, what can you leave behind, how do you decide. I suppose that’s a Quality World question at the end of the day. And that, of course, is always relevant!!!!
I love the Orphan Train example. It’s not a complicated thing the teacher did, yet it added that element of relevance. All the better that it was based on Quality World questions.
Always good to hear from you.
I am struggling with the relevance issue as a parent with my 14- and 17-year old sons. They hear me at home talking about how important choice, relevancy, thinking etc are, then they go to school and receive none of it. Both of them suffered huge set-backs in their grades this year, I believe because they know how it should be, but it isn’t. The 17-year old said “Mom, I know the stuff – look at my test scores. I just don’t like to do the assignments.” He’s right, he does know it. But, at this point he has to jump through the hoops to get the grade. That doesn’t make sense to him (and honestly to me either). He had a Final Spanish project that deflated his already sagging grade in which he had to write an alphabet book – 1/2 page for each letter – about a Spanish speaking country. It didn’t have to have a word of Spanish in it. He found that highly irrelevant and therefore put very little effort into it.
To the question – how can I help my children find relevancy on their own when it isn’t being provided to them at school, when most of their education is busy work, grammar worksheets, etc at the high school level? I’ve designed summer-school projects to help them catch-up that are relevant, but I might just be perpetuating the problem 🙂
I resonate with you on this. It is so frustrating when our kids are ready for so much more, and yet they aren’t getting it. I want to share a great answer here, but I am struggling.
One thing that comes to mind is in regard to how fortunate your sons are to have you as a parent. You get what is happening and are not pressuring them from the home side. A lot of kids don’t have this advantage and their performance at school (or lack thereof) leads to tension at home. Parents can get very frustrated and even angry with their children over low grades. This is especially true when parents get their own power needs met through the performance of their children.
I think I would keep in mind, and even talk with my kids about this, that if they are insightful enough to recognize a lack of relevance, then they are also insightful enough to figure out how to respond to the situation. I would ask them, “Given the circumstances, how can you still gain value from your high school experience?” There answers would need to work for everyone involved, including the teachers, so this isn’t an easy question to answer, but I don’t know where else to turn at the moment. I’m sure you want the boys in an SDA school, yet I know you also want them to enjoy school and to be appropriately challenged.
I’m interested to know how they respond to this assignment.
Oh, if only law school had followed a lesson plan geared towards relevance..
Instead “busy” reading seemed to be the norm. But when something clicks, or matters, to something real in your life, it is pretty remarkable how much differently that information is processed.
If only . . .
Hopefully, more and more schools, including law schools, will see the value of relevance and how it can show up in lessons and assignments. It makes the essential difference between inspiration and drudgery.
Jordan: I really appreciated your commentary; thank you. I have survived over 30 years with a lawyer and what fascinated me (listening to him tell his story) is that he went into law initially “to help people,” and he found, in practice, that it was not a shared value with the attorney community. Doing professional development over two decades ago, he learned more about mediation which met his Quality World picture much better than litigation as it was less competitive and more collaborative. He re-tooled as an attorney-mediator which was much more satisfying. He still thinks “Getting to Yes” is a great book; Bill Glasser often referred to Alfie Kohn’s book, “No Contest.” I don’t know your story, but I think you would be a great teacher in a law school. Soldier on!