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Relevance in learning

Learning to Walk

I’ve recently been taking a lot of notice as to what my own children are being asked to do for homework and what various teachers are expecting of their students and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps we’re not really helping our kids to learn.

I’m not teacher-bashing here. I see that I’ve done this before too. And I know this is definitely not every teacher/class. But in my observations recently – reflecting also on what I’ve done – I realise that many children are asked to research this or that and present what they find out. I don’t know about you, but I can go and get information about a certain topic, present it in a way that satisfies the criteria given, and I will not have learnt a thing. I’ve engaged in a superficial way on a task that I can do pretty easily. I haven’t been challenged, however. I haven’t needed to think. I could-and many students/children do-copy and paste from the internet into my own presentation.

Ignoring the copyright issue for a moment, one could argue that this is okay as the student has shown enough understanding to pick the right information to present out of the screeds available online. However is this all we are really looking for?

I’m sure most teachers would ask questions that encourage higher-order thinking, but are these questions getting the answers you would hope by just asking for a presentation (which in my observations is usually a poster or a PowerPoint – don’t get me started on PowerPoint, but it is usually not an appropriate technology for children to use to present information in my opinion).

What many of these tasks are missing is the authentic context, the real life situation that makes the task/topic relevant to the students. They seem to be missing the group discussion/interactions to ask the questions that students actually need answers to. Although they are set up under the guise of inquiry learning, they are still teacher-centered with an expectation that students will carry it out in a certain way and present something to the teacher that satisfies their (the teacher) needs/requirements rather than giving the student ownership of their learning.

One of the key points about inquiry learning is that it is collaborative. Students “co-construct their learning in an authentic context” (Team Solutions). However, I have seen a number of inquiries given to students to work on individually.

I would love to hear about really positive learning experiences that are going on. I know they are happening as I read about many in blogs, on twitter and elsewhere, however I’m not convinced this is the norm.

Personally, I’m going to work at making sure what I ask my students to do is relevant to them somehow. I imagine with some things it could be particularly difficult. Also at the higher levels of school I know that qualifications can get in the way sometimes with students motivated by gaining credits. But hopefully I can help make learning more relevant to them.

 

Image: Flickr.com Tela Chhe / CC-BY-2.0

4 thoughts on “Relevance in learning

  1. A challenging post! I was observing a teacher in a different subject area today and they did this, I also do it in occassion. It made me think that the students must get a little bored if many of their teachers are asking them to research a topic and create a presentation to show what they have learnt. Thanks for the challenge! I’m going to make sure I plan more challenging tasks from now on.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Christine. I’m glad my post has challenged someone. They often challenge me! I agree that the students must get bored sometimes.
      Cheers
      Nathaniel

  2. I couldn’t let this post go by without commenting. Not the question you asked Nathaniel but as a classroom teacher I routinely refused to set homework. I believed that many families need quality time together at home at the end of a day. Many are rushing here and there to extra-curricular activities, or not, either way this is the worst time of day to get a child to learn! They are tired, have spent 5 hours sitting at a desk and to me there are many more important things that children could be doing, even if that means hanging/chilling with their siblings and friends or spending time with extended family. Homework I believe should be authentic for the students such as senior high students this likely means swotting and finishing class lessons because they are ‘credit-gathering and this is authentic for them but for our younger students authentic means, finishing off something they didn’t manage to complete in class (real-life consequences) not necessarily meaning they were ‘naughty’ but may have chosen to do something else. It could be that they need more information for their class work and a talk with Mum and Dad (or anyone for that matter) will assist with this. This gives parents, or whoever, some real connection with their children’s school work and also role models that people in our students’ lives are a very important source of information. I also believe that older people in society are not being valued for their wealth of experience and knowledge and therefore not gaining the respect that they deserve. Everything does not have to come from Google! I will come down off my soapbox now…
    Sorry Nathaniel, what was your question?!!

  3. Thanks for the challenge Nathaniel.
    I know for one, I am somewhat anti-homework. Essentially I only have homework in my class to satisfy those parents who expect homework to go hand-in-hand with school.
    However, back to your actual topic, which as I see it is around relevant homework tasks.
    One way to make any task (school or homework) is to make it student focussed. If the student chooses not only the topic that they are researching, but can choose the way in which they present their findings, then we begin to engage the student with their learning. I know last year I felt I had quite a bit of success with this way of thinking around student learning.
    This won’t necessarily stop the copy and paste mentality of the majority primary aged school children; but they will come to learn the morality around that when they’re ready.
    Keep up the good writing!

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