Making Learning R.E.A.L.: Relevant

December 31, 2020
Photo Courtesy: Janko Ferlic from Pexels

There is something wonderful that happens around the age of 2. Children seem to tune into the world around them and start asking the question “why?”. That simple question, full of curiosity and wonder, opens doors to new information, knowledge, and discoveries. However, as children grow and mature they begin to discover their preferences and interests. When a subject no longer fits into these areas, their question, once bursting with anticipation turns to one of annoyance or frustration – “Why do I need to learn this?”. If you have ever taught or helped a child with homework, I’m sure this is a question you’re quite familiar with. Making learning relevant, directly connecting what a child is learning to their own life, is a driving force towards making learning real.

Understanding the importance of learning concepts and skills comes naturally to adults – I need to learn to read so I can apply for jobs, read instruction manuals, and achieve the multitude of goals I have set for myself. When I learn mathematical concepts, I can effectively manage money or complete home renovations without destroying my house. But the “why”, isn’t always obvious to young children. They have not yet developed the skill of discerning their future learning needs. Further, the answers we provide often seem irrelevant to the young learner.

While it is important for students to understand “why” they are learning. It is more useful for them to understand “why it matters to me”. In other words, why is this relevant in the here and now? This powerful connection must be made in order to make learning real. When this connection is made, students become more interested in their learning and begin to take ownership of their work. It creates a “buy-in” mentality. Bridging the gap between the subject matter and why it is important also gives credibility to the teacher. When a teacher relays the relevance of the material to the student, the student begins to trust that what you are teaching is worth learning.

When a teacher relays the relevance of the material to the student, the student begins to trust that what you are teaching is worth learning.

How do we ensure we are making learning relevant?

Start by looking at the big picture of what you are teaching. Don’t get lost in the small details, but try to narrow it down to an overarching idea.
For example: The learning goal might be that students need to understand patterns and number sequences.

Answer the Initial “Why”.
They need to use this foundational skill later to understand more complex mathematical concepts.
While this is true, telling a student that they need to learn a math concept so that they can do more complex math later is not the best motivation, nor does it make it relevant to them in their here and now.

Make the Connection.
Link the “why” directly to your students’ lives.

Photo Courtesy: Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

Answer The “Why” in student friendly language.
– For the crafter in your home this may be: When you understand patterns and number sequences it will help you when you are reading or creating your own sewing/knitting/crocheting pattern.
– The same can be applied to the student interested in gaming: When you understand patterns and number sequences it will help you understand sequences in video games, learn to code, or even develop your own game.
– The outdoorsy child will see relevance in exploring patterns in nature, predicting weather trends, and noticing migration and other animal habits.

Continually recall and refer back to why you are teaching particular material.
This might look like, “We are learning how to extend numerical patterns so that we can better our overall understanding of patterns and number sequences. Do you recall why we are learning about patterns and sequences?”. When a student can make a new connection to their life – celebrate! then write it down to refer back too. This will carry the relevance of their learning throughout the unit.

It would be overwhelming to explicitly link every lesson to your student’s life. Also, it is not necessary. By connecting the “big picture” of their learning, you can call back that reasoning throughout the nitty gritty lessons.

By taking this a step further, we can continue making learning real and relevant. When possible, choose assignments that speak to your child’s interests. Have your child create their own craft pattern, take a free coding class, or explore nature and discuss patterns they see. Remember, just as you would grow weary of completing worksheet after worksheet, so do children.

When we assist students in making the connection between what they are learning and why, we are making learning real. When we provide them with learning opportunities that directly relate to their lives, not only will students see the relevance, but their learning will become more engaging.