As educators, we know learners sometimes fail to see the connection between their work inside classroom walls and their lives beyond classroom walls. A question that often arises in many of our students’ heads is, why do we need to learn this?
As their teacher, I wonder how I can help my students see that their time within our classroom is valuable, not just for the few months we are together, but for a lifetime.
One practice I employ is asking students, “Why do you think we need to master this?” Once they get beyond the idea of “We need to know it for the test” or “We need this for next year,” my students begin to discover some interesting ideas about how their learning affects them now and in the future.
This winter, our sixth grade had our annual Innovation Day. This day is built on the 20% principle where students can choose any topic, wondering, or problem that interests them. Students get to spend an entire day becoming experts and creating something to use to teach their peers about their area of expertise on the following day during our Gallery Walk, where they get to share their findings.
This year, we challenged students to make something that would be interactive for their peers (and the others guests we invited). We had an incredible day filled with excitement, passion, and creativity as each project was as unique as the student behind it.
I spent more than two weeks working with each of my students in the planning stages. One task they were expected to do was explain what skills or strategies they had taken from their academic classes that would support their learning on Innovation Day. Seeing that “eureka” moment when students realized how much they would rely upon their literacy abilities to discover answers, solve problems, and create something to share with their peers was exciting.
Because of our Innovation Day, I had the opportunity to see some of my students in a new light. I saw enthusiasm I had not seen before. Students who had been hard to reach or difficult to connect with through our usual classroom activities were now strong, confident, and excited to share their learning with others.
Several students used Lego Mindstorm kits to build and program robots. Another student created authentic, interactive games teaching peers how to make financial investments. Other students built motors, created inventions, or learned the chemistry behind dyeing hair. Some wanted to create a children’s book using tools like StoryJumper or LINTOR Publishing. Others wanted to create videos using WeVideo, PowToon, or iMovie. Some students wanted to create a how-to guide on a Wiki, Tackk, or a Weebly.
As I took time to visit them during their Gallery Walk, I asked each of the students, “What can we do to bring this type of learning into our ELA classroom?”
Even though each student created something unique, students’ answers to my probing question were very similar. They each expressed an interest in composing something that could teach others what they had learned. They all wanted to pay forward their learning.
Using their newly gained experience, my students clearly saw how their mastering of ELA standards supported them in anything they wanted to accomplish. They truly have gained an understanding of the importance of literacy in their lives, not just for a grade or a test, but as a vehicle for taking them anywhere they may want to go—now and in the future.