Why am I starting this post by talking about Dave Burgess's book, Teach Like a Pirate? Because Denis Sheeran's book, Instant Relevance: Using Today's Experiences to Teach Tomorrow's Lessons, takes this idea of looking for creativity and being inspired by what's around us to another level.
I'm thankful to Denis for sending me a copy. As an instructional coach for 6-12 grade educators in all subject areas, I found instant relevance in its pages. (See what I did there, Denis?) When you read the book, which I hope you do, you'll understand my attempt at humor here. This book is filled with humorous anecdotes that add to the intended message and make for a very enjoyable read.
In order for our students to WANT to learn, we need to connect them to more than just what we teach.
It's why handing them the textbook that was written for "everyone", printing off worksheets or lecturing about the content won't engage students in real learning.
It's why expecting students to read and study the words on the page won't inspire inquisitive minds or extend beyond the summative assessment.
It's why there's often little to no application of knowledge, let alone any enthusiasm or desire to further their learning outside the school day.
Like many fabulous DBC (Dave Burgess Consulting) books that have come before, this one's ideas are structured as an acronym. The acronym is INSTANT, which makes sense, due to the title. Denis sprinkles in a fair amount of personal stories that provide details about his A-HA moments. Those moments when, with eyes wide open, he noticed ways to connect the real world to engaging experiences for his students. Although Denis teaches math, these examples allow any educator to recognize the importance of taking advantage of opportunities to better connect students to their content.
Here are the sections in this book, divided into an acronym like I mentioned, that highlight ideas for any educator to capitalize on instant relevance. Denis includes a couple of thinking questions at the end of each smaller segment. These are probably my favorite part, since they challenge me to examine my own practice in order to be better.
I: Infusing who you are in what you do
*Use your hobbies and interests to connect students to the content. Share with colleagues.
**My takeaway: Thinking question:"When you hear your colleagues talking about lessons and a connection comes to mind, do you share it?"
N: Natural Flow. Follow the question.
*Don't be so focused on your lesson plan or covering curriculum that you lose momentum or miss out on opportunities to learn unexpectedly. These are often some of the best experiences.
**My takeaway: "We must prepare ourselves to follow a question down an unexpected road at any point."
S: Sudden changes to your surroundings
*Embrace changes as opportunities to create relevance, and not as barriers to covering content.
**My takeaway: Thinking question: "When change is necessary, do you think about what is being lost by the change, or do you consider what is being gained?" Powerful words!
T: Television and pop culture
*They can help connect with your students and spark curiosity in ways you can't imagine.
**My takeaway: Always be prepared to abandon the lesson plan and "replace it with an experience you feel your students need."
A: Awareness of your surroundings
*Become more aware of how surroundings can be inspiration for experiences that will connect to your students. Tuck them away or use the next day.
**My takeaway: Don't miss opportunities to take moments from your life or your students' lives and connect them with learning your content.
N: National Events and Crazes
*Rather than brush current or national events aside for after class, use their attention to connect.
**My takeaway: Thinking question: "In what ways can you create cross-curricular connections from lessons" based on current events/trends?
T: Two or more content areas
*Don't miss the opportunity to create connections with fellow teachers by planning cross-curricular experiences. Talk to colleagues and share ideas. It often multiplies the learning.
**My takeaway: "connecting with our students in a relevant way often means going beyond our content area to effectively engage students in learning our content area"
Denis talks about meeting kids at their best: using their interests and questions to power our class. If we make this search for relevance part of our routine, we can move from "When will I ever use this?" to "Which part of your life did you get this from?"
One of my favorite messages is to "take time to view your teaching from your students' perspectives, through the lens of their learning."
I'll close with Denis' connection between our ability to incorporate new ideas into our teaching and using Google Maps. He says we can take the easy route, the fastest route, or the scenic route. There's no one way. However, if we don't make learning more relevant to our students, then Denis says, "they will learn without us."