Purpose and Pertinence: Classrooms I visited for this project came alive, became electrified even, every time students were able to discern the larger purpose of their learning, or found connections from their studies to their own lives. Everyone deserves to know and understand why they are learning what we are teaching; this is a key to motivation at the outset of learning, and key to transfer at its culmination.
If students know they are conducting a lab in order to determine the cause of a life-threatening illness in their subject, their purpose is self-evident and their motivation high. If the culmination of a learning program is a product to be presented or published for a wider audience, the purpose of ensuring it contaings clear communication and high standards of form become more apparent and hence motivating. Adolescents are concerned about the world they are inheriting and the responsibility they will have for it; if we can connect the dots of what we are teaching to how they can exercise these responsibilities, they will respond. But as grand as all this is, infusing purpose can also add value to the motivation for even the most mundane lessons. I enjoyed a chemistry class greatly where groups collaborating in solving a problem set, the answers to which formed the combination to unlock a locker down the hall containing a small bag of candy. it was great fun. We worked hard to get the right answers to those questions.
Adding to the P of Purpose is a related P, pertinence. I could call it relevance, but I’d stray from my P’s. When teachers tackle topics pertinent to high school students, you can see them rise in their seats and respond. Sex sells; three of the classrooms I found myself responding to were ones where the teachers called attention to the sexual passions the poetry or dramas reflected and students appreciated that their interests were respected here. But it doesn’t have to be sex; ideologies matter to kids, as does politics, the environment, even TV.
Examples: Below are opening sentences, and in most cases, links to the full narratives, of my live-blog observations of classrooms effectively using purpose and pertinence to enhance student learning. Please note: these narratives are written “on-the-fly” in the moment as I sit in classrooms observing and writing; they have a raw and unedited quality to them.
Crossroads English Class “Today I want to talk about our assignment– on your names, the teacher tells us, and I want to do a fishbowl activity.” More..
Head Royce School English Class: We are discussing the poetry here, seminar style. The emotion of the poetry, the passion, is connected to the teacher making a personal reference, very vague, of youthful passion. More…
Head Royce Science Project: The other that really lit him up last year was the required science project, which was entirely open to any topic of their choosing. More…
High Tech High History Class: Here now in Humanities class, with Pat Holder, a very enthusiastic teacher who has a huge map of the world up on the wall, and a sign over the entry door which reads “Do you know your rights?” More..
Redwood Day School Life Planning Curriculum: Another distinctive feature of the RDS High School, something Ray pointed to first when I asked him how RDS would differ itself, is its Life Planning Curriculum. More….