Engaging Students: Finding Relevance in Your Lessons

How do you get people interested in a lesson and how do you make the information stick, whether it is in classroom or a board room?

Consider what engages any audience, whether they’re educators, low-income students, or CEOs. As an educator, you need to know your audience and define what they need to know to better themselves academically, personally, or professionally. Chances are if you were to hold a professional development class for second-grade teachers and you chose to present on the lifespan of bumble bees in Venezuela, the teachers would not find your presentation key to advancement in their career. Why? The material doesn’t have relevance. Students demand the same customization and relevance in their lessons in order for information to make an impact. However, one lesson does not fit all. A topic’s “relevance” is defined differently by different student populations.

The Ariel Community Academy is a K-8 school in Chicago where 98 percent of the students are black, and almost 90 percent of students are from low-income families, according to the Edutopia story “Financial Literacy Makes School Relevant.” Educators at Ariel know that the most critical and relevant lessons for their students are those that give them skills to break the poverty cycle.  The school has outperformed its district since 2002, and since 2007 has outperformed the district and the entire state of Illinois. How? With a strong financial literacy curriculum that teaches students the critical thinking skills to make financial decisions and the vision to see themselves succeeding in the future, all in a real-world context.

The process is simple: know your audience, then show them the relevance between what you are teaching to the real-world, whether the connection is to the reality of today, tomorrow, or both. The mission of Ariel isn’t only to teach critical thinking skills for the real-world, they also know they have to give their students the “courage and confidence” so they are inspired to dream big.

Not all students will have the opportunity to learn real-world skills in the class, but teachers and parents can foster learning environments which promote experiences outside of school. Some ideas include exposing students to real-world  situations by getting them interested in non-fiction reading (now a Common Core requirement in most states), service learning/volunteering, and after school programs that connect them with community members, professionals, and career training. How can you help a student you know to find meaning through a real life connection, experience or example?  How have you inspired a student to dream big? How can you inspire yourself to dream big and become a role model for a young person you know?



“Financial Literacy Makes School Relevant,” by Mariko Nobori. 28 March 2012. Edutopia. Accessed on 2 April 2012. http://www.edutopia.org/stw-financial-literacy-relevance-overview?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_content=blog&utm_campaign=arieloverview 

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