Classroom 101: Relevance

I’ve said this many times in many ways but I believe it bears repeating. The inescapable truth is that students don’t care for content the way teachers care for content. That is, they aren’t exhilarated by the thought of a perfectly formed sentence or a flawless mathematical proof. They don’t find excitement in uncovering a new primary source for a historical event, or thrill to the discovery of a new element. Students in most classrooms aren’t passionate about delivering the perfect volley using the right stance, nor are they intense in their pursuit of musical accuracy or artistic aptitude.
Simply put, most kids could care less about what teachers have spent what seem to be the best years of their lives studying, absorbing and hoping to pass along to eager students.
In order to get students to even begin paying attention much less share a passion for the subject, teachers need to begin by demonstrating the relevance of what they are teaching, not only to real life, but in particular to students’ lives. Why should a student who is overburdened with adolescent angst and all the drama that goes with it, along with home, work, school and a series of classes that seek to impart a series of facts that seemingly have no connection to his or her life whatsoever, bother to pay attention?
Yes, it’s possible to regiment a classroom, bully, threaten and punish students into putting on a semblance of attention, but that is not the way to create genuine interest in a subject, nor encourage lasting learning that they can apply outside the classroom.
Genuine interest comes from excitement born of the clear knowledge that what I am learning will benefit me directly. For adolescents and to be honest for most adults, “what’s in it for me?” is the most pressing question when it comes to doing something. Teachers need to answer that question every day in ways that make sense to their classes. “We are learning this because it helps you in the following ways:____________________ “ should be a sentence that precedes every single lesson. By respecting students enough to take the time to explain how your content is useful to them other than in passing the class or the test, you allow them to question and you are forced as well to think of how your content is valuable and relevant in the real world. Thinking deeply about how each facet of your curriculum and your content connects to the big picture and to practical and functional purposes, may in fact, not only spark your students’ interest, but serve to rekindle your own.