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Do Not Make Lessons Relevant

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ocean wave

This article is actually from 2014, but it touched a nerve that has been raw since I was a student in the 1970s. The author is talking about the issue of students asking "Why do we need to learn this anyway" and after setting up the problem, he drops this:

The best solution to this problem is to make every lesson relevant to each student. However, given the impossibility of achieving that goal, I offer a few teaching tips that can mostly make that dreaded question about relevance a thing of the past. 

And to make matters worse, the link to this article called it "Three Ways To Make Your Lessons Relevant."

No. No no no no no, and also, no.

The instant you decide you want to "make" your lesson relevant, you've lost, because you have admitted that the lesson is not actually relevant. After all, you don't look at the ocean and say, "We'll have to find a way to make that wet." If your spousal unit says, "I'm looking for ways to make myself like you," that is not a good sign.

 
 

Your lesson should BE relevant, and you should know why it is relevant. And if your students ask why it's worth their time, you should be able to answer that question.

Put another way-- if you don't have a good reason for teaching the lesson, then why are you teaching the lesson? Note: "Because we always have" and "Because that's just one of those things teachers do" are not good answers. "Because I've been told I have to," is not much better, but in the current day and age, it is sometimes the honest answer.

So any time you find yourself trying to think of a way to make a lesson relevant, take a step back and instead ask yourself why you are teaching that lesson at all. As teachers, we have been given stewardship over a sizeable chunk of our students' lives. The most fundamental responsibility we have is to avoid wasting any of that precious time.

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Peter Greene has been a classroom teacher of secondary English for thirty-many years. He lives and works in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania where he plays ni a town band, works in community theater, and writes for the local paper.

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Guest Wednesday, 22 November 2017