The importance of being relevant

I quite like worksheets myself. They look so organised when planning a curriculum. You can see exactly what you have covered, and what you plan to practice next. There is a real sense of accomplishment when the book of worksheets is completed.

Many people give out a small prize at the end of a set of worksheets, and why not? It is a highly visible goal. Also, there are just so many of them for all subjects. Of course that is the way things are done.

In the mine

It is unfortunate then, that my son hates worksheets. Hates them with a passion. He flat out refuses to do them regardless of rewards or punishments, and went noticeably backwards when I insisted that we use them.

Although he struggles to verbalise exactly why he dislikes them so much, what it really comes down to, is that it is extremely difficult to directly relate them to anything. Although they are always fairly simple, the repetition of simple tasks with no context is just plain dull, regardless of the topic.

I have been involved in quite a bit of adult education at work over the last couple of years. I use six principles of adult education which are widely recognised. One of them is that ‘adults are relevancy oriented.’

I have searched for principles of childhood education, but none of the lists I have come across agree with any of the others. Even more interesting, I thought, is that I did not come across any which said that children like their lessons to be relevant.

Painting a river

I find this last point especially, quite bizarre. It is such a regular complaint from kids of all ages that they do not see a reason for their efforts. It is so common to see kids struggle, not because they do not have the capacity to learn a subject, but because they cannot understand why they would want to.

This seems so very unfair. In much the same way that kids will study almost anything if you engage in it with them, they will also be happy to study most subjects if they can see how it relates to their lives. I spend a lot of thought trying to bring relevance to our lessons. On the whole, we get a lot of success based on this. At the same time, it becomes painfully obvious when our lessons are not relevant to the boys.

Without doing maths worksheets exactly, we work out lots of similar problems through games, counting things around the house, or checking shopping receipts. We also play around with mathematical principles quite a lot without ever actually attaching numbers.

I like to view history not as lists of dates and names, but as an immense story of how people survived (and hopefully prospered) in different scenarios. We often explore how universal problems were solved by different methods, and then try to imagine ourselves using historical technology to get through our day. There is lots of hands on play involved with both history and science lessons.

Putting the flame to it

Science is by far the easiest subject to find all around us. Whether we are looking at the physical world, chemical reactions, or doing nature studies, it is easily found in or around our home.

I do not believe that relevance in lessons can be underestimated. Difficult topics become so much easier when they have a practical application. It is what sparks curiosity. It is the rationale of all education.

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About Blokeschool

I am a homeschooling dad with a wife and two boys. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing, so I feel compelled to write it all down. In my spare time, I work as a registered nurse, drink too much coffee, and intermittently renovate the house.
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6 Responses to The importance of being relevant

  1. J.C says:

    I hear you! My kids are so led by their interests. My middle child (6) is the one everyone said should go to school because she’d do so well, is also the one who HATES worksheets with a passion, and any time anyone tries to ‘teach’ her something, she groans and grumbles and disengages. It makes me laugh so hard, to see them baffled at why she’s so anti. It’s just not how we do things in this house – we work to their learning styles, and their interests, and we engage with them in things. Sure it makes it harder to track progress or keep track of what we’ve covered, but as they have shown me many times, when they are truly motivated to learn something, it happens quickly and with ease. So, I am rolling with it.
    I sometimes wonder if relevancy is left out of childhood education principles simply because in a traditional school setting it would be virtually impossible to find relevancy for each and every child in the class room?

    • Blokeschool says:

      I think you make a valid point there. It is hard enough doing this with a small number. It would be pretty much impossible to bring relevance for every subject to every kid in a classroom setting.

  2. Yvonne says:

    So much of our mathematics is done in the kitchen – from adjusting the quantities of recipes to working with weight and volume to fractions and problem solving. The best part is that we get to share as a family in what we have learned and created around the dining room table at the end of the day. You don’t get much more relevant than that!

  3. Zee says:

    Wow. I’m surprised relevancy hasn’t come up more in research for children’s learning. I taught in a classroom for a while, and I can’t count the number of times I was asked why they have to do something.

    I’m tutoring privately now, and I get that question even more, I think. I was like that in school, too. Especially with English – well sure, I could try to understand what Shakespeare is saying, but really, why would I want to? (my opinion on Shakespeare has changed somewhat over the years).

    Sometimes, there’s nothing to say except, it’s part of the curriculum, therefore you have to do it to pass, and if you pass highschool it opens up more opportunities for you. Depending on the student, I can also help them understand that by exploring content and ideas they don’t like, it helps them stretch as a person.

    They get this more than, ‘this complicated algebra may possibly help you one day if you happen to become a rocket scientist, which you probably won’t’.

    • Blokeschool says:

      Your comment reminds me of when I was a deal younger, and a wildly enthusiastic martial artist. A small group of us had been practicing a flashy and difficult, but not very practical, move. None of us had any intention of actually using it, but we persisted in learning it. Our rationale was that the ability to do this particular move was a clear demonstration of mastery over all the steps preceding it. Sometimes you learn things for no better reason than to show off.

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