By Guest Blogger, Heather Vargas, June 13, 2013


The idea of relevance in instruction is a hot button buzzword these days but what is it really? What does it look like and how is it different from what we’ve done before?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who teaches 6th grade. He watched me teach a math lesson with fervor. He said, “I thought you said you weren’t good at math”. I replied, “I’m not, but these are percentages and I love shopping”. Percentages, a math concept, has woven itself into my realm of knowledge because it is relevant to me. Our students are no different.

As educators we are being asked to facilitate connections and relevancy with our students to achieve better learning outcomes. In the past we taught many things, rocks for example, without ever really asking ourselves “why”? If we as teachers can’t answer the “why”, how can we expect our students to find value in their learning?

Recently, I had taught 4th grade students to navigate Microsoft Publisher, Google images, and Research sites. They had become quite familiar working through a few browsers at once. They had learned to discern the information they wanted, how to format, cut and paste, and so on. In and of itself, this felt like an accomplishment. After flirting with this idea of relevance all year, I wanted to connect these skills to their lives.

I decided to hold a contest with the students. Fourth graders were to be responsible for producing a brochure on the computer that we would pass out at an our annual “Spring Fling Open House”. They needed to include the schedule, cover all highlights and events of the evening, and embed at least five images. The winner’s brochure would be passed out to over 500 community members and parents.

I’ve never seen them work so hard. They did their best work. All of a sudden, the assignment mattered to them…it was relevant! I’ve been teaching almost 20 years. The “because I said so” of yesteryear doesn’t work with the 21st century learner. These learners want to know why, and I don’t know about you, but I am on a hunt to find answers for them. We must bridge the connections from their learning to their lives to make lessons relevant.

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