Relevancy of Student Learning
Students understand relevancy of learning as well as, or better than, anyone involved with, or in, education. They are, after all, usually at the receiving end of learning, and most often captive in seats designed for students of a past century. While students understand relevancy, they don’t usually get beyond the point of asking the question “Why?” when providing feedback, or criticism of lessons, and teachers. While they may not have the most eloquent education commentary, or possibly the sophistication to go beyond asking the lesson-relevancy question “Why?” school leaders must take those comments and that question seriously.
If students aren’t given good reasons for why their lessons are important, then quite possibly there needs to be some more appropriate learning-relevant answers. Students have the right to know “Why?” right up front, and specifically. They also have the right to ask that question “Why?” at any point in their learning careers that they feel that answer is needed. While we assume students hear essential questions, from educators at the start of a lesson, as a familiar part of each class day, students should expect to know lesson relevancy as well.
There are some educators, who believe that students don’t understand what teachers are saying, doing, or where they are leading. And furthermore, that lack of student understanding takes the blame in education, today. But that is so far from the truth. It may be that students understand all too clearly. While students may not understand their teachers, teachers must understand their students. If that happens the understanding gap narrows. The simple statement by a student, “I hate school.” doesn’t specifically address the problem, but it certainly tells us something that needs to be further investigated and translated. I hate school, or I’m bored, or the teacher doesn’t understand me, may not be specific enough for adults, but for students, that may be enough, because the rest is implied. Unfortunately, we, as adults most times ignore those statements as the norm, rather than investigating and discovering more about the reasons why.
It’s my learning!
There is a certainty, here, that the majority of students feeling this way believe that they are not getting an educationally fair shake. What we forget, as adults, is that individual student learning is something about which students should be confidently certain. Students should also be at ease that being selfish about one’s learning is OK. Students love to pronounce that it is their life, their education, their problem, and their learning—and that they will handle it. Again, those statements seem simple to adults, but they’re not. Their meaning is deeper. When students say those things, they truly are saying more, but to adults it seems the same, old tune. Again, students are saying what we need to hear, and teachers need to translate. It’s easy to interpret that as students misunderstanding their teachers, but that’s not what they’re saying at all. The proper translation should be, my teacher doesn’t understand me. Additionally, my teacher doesn’t listen to what I’m saying, or know anything about the way I really learned, is often a trip down the same misunderstood learning path.
Taking the giant step
For students to avoid becoming a statistic of failure, it is necessary for them to be understood by educators, and not the reverse of that. Students need to know that what they are learning makes sense to them, and not just something to be added to a list somewhere in a curriculum notebook, or rewarded as an arbitrary grade for completion. Students, today, have the right to know where each lesson is headed, have a voice for participating, and are given a way to modify and change the path of a lesson for a better end. It is the solution to most every essential question. It is a beginning for having students share in lessons and learning. It is a giant step for educators.
It will at first seem, for educators, like giving up a piece of ownership, and it is, but student learning is not ours to own. Students have told us that. If done, though, there may be a time when the students will not reminisce about hating school enough to learn less, or leave learning. While students understand learning relevancy, it is up to educators to understand how to meet those misunderstood, but highly important student statements. And if we understand what needs changing, there isn’t a reason we can’t bring words to action. It’s what educators are meant to do for students. Students will understand that change immediately, because they are already there.
About the Author:
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.