As a researcher I always find myself questioning and searching and attempting to analyze, differentiate, evaluate, and explore… my friends and family do not always appreciate such action (nor did many of my students). I was recently visiting my niece who is a sophomore in Georgia; we talked about her interest in marine biology and possible summer programs to accelerate her interest, points to think about when choosing a college, and the benefits she will realize from all that she has accomplished to date—one of which is having many alternatives routes to success to choose from.
My conversation with Lauren serves as an example of how we as educators both connect kids to content and connect content to kids. There have been a few blogs and articles about this lately including how to “make” mathematics applicable to students:
Studies Find Payoff in ‘Personalizing’ Algebra ( Sparks, 09.25.2012)
N Ways to Apply Algebra with The New York Times (Honner, 09.26.2012)
What research tells us is that teachers are the most important factor that affects student learning. As the research suggests and as the blogs above reinforce, this means that we need to practice strategies that help our students become engaged learners. Below are a couple examples of engaging students; I hope you’ll add additional examples from your experience:
Connecting Kids to Content: A student/class has deliberate questions or interests. Lauren has a specific interest in marine biology. I have a friend studying fisheries and wildlife sciences in graduate school. I let my friend know of her interest in possibly studying marine biology and applying for a summer internship and asked if he had any suggestions for Lauren. Lauren also sent an email directly to him. My friend Devin not only responded to Lauren but asked additional questions which she responded to personally… This tenth grader is now connected with an expert—soon to be PhD in his field—and their conversation continues!
Connecting Content to Kids: An educator has a solution (for learning content) and presents this solution to kids interested in (or simply “required” to take) the content. Many years ago as an undergraduate student I tutored a friend of mine who was taking high school mathematics; let’s simply say he was not a mathematician. What he had, however, was experience living and working on a then dairy farm and even then he knew everything that went into running a successful small farm. Thus, when we got to content of perimeter and area it was very easy for me to present this in a way that he could relate to. That is, we could talk about “how much fencing he would need to enclose the lower field” or “the number of hay bales that would fit (without stacking) on the trailer.” The content became relevant to Ron. He “got” it, continued to engage with the content, and was successful.
I cannot tell you how many times the above examples have repeated themselves! A recent conversation with a colleague was about connecting arithmetic and money transactions (something his son was struggling with) with what his son does when playing video games and “purchasing” items/lives on the game. My research methods students connected with content and concepts by engaging in field research about something that interested them and by completing content analyses on different genres of music.
So, if the teacher is the common denominator and the most important factor affecting student learning, then what do we have to do?
Make it Personal.
Provide Opportunities for Practice and Feedback.
Learning makes more sense to students when they experience learning tasks that specifically connect them to learning targets. Get to know your students’ interests and make those learning tasks personal to both them and to you. We informally assess student progress each day through body language and expressions. Listen to the questions students ask and recognize and analyze their frustration levels. Encourage them to reflect on their own performance, make learning connections, and take ownership of their learning. Then, recognize their good performance. The results are a win-win-win-win for you, for the student(s), for parents, and for the school.
Honner, Patrick. (09.26.2012). N Ways to Apply Algebra with The New York Times in The Learning Network blog online.
Sparks, Sarah D. (09.25.2012). Studies Find Payoff in ‘Personalizing’ Algebra in Education Week online.
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