“Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom gathered knowledge to (the) real world…” (Trilling & Fadel – 21st Century Skills – 2009).
THIS real world learning should be carried out in classrooms to engage, motivate, deepen understanding and to connect a young persons learning in a real world context. In fact, if learning is not linked to the real world then we, as teachers, are not providing appropriate learning opportunities for our young people. I know through experience that real world learning is one of the most important factors in a classroom. It will bring about engagement, motivation and the deeper understanding that will ultimately lead to better academic success.
Trilling & Fadel also add that “Learning is a lifelong journey, and on most journeys it is important to have a destination in mind and a reliable means of transport to get there“. Learning is a process and there are many examples, some of them I have covered in my blogs so far, others I will address another time. The key starting point is to make the journey of learning (reliable means of transport) real to life and the world around us.
I have been involved in education for 11 years and the first thing I always do as a classroom teacher, whatever the learning outcome, is to think; How can I make this real to the learners? How can I put this in a relevant context for them? Will this engage them from the start (a hook) and make them inquire (developing lifelong learning skills)?
How to link learning to the real world
An easy thing to do which any teacher could start tomorrow, is to link the learning outcomes to a career. An example could be in Maths when looking at areas or volumes. This knowledge could easily be connected with the building trade where decorators may use volume for working out how much paint would be needed to paint a room. A builder would need to be able to work out the area of a roof e.g. to work out how many tiles would be needed. What about creative writing in English being linked to famous authors such as JK Rowling or being a sports reporter/commentator when verbally presenting information on an event or other?
I have covered other examples of this type of real world learning in an earlier blog.
Reasons to link learning to the real world
Linking learning in a classroom has further benefits. It will engage the learner by giving them a real reason to have this skill or knowledge. It should not just be for a test that they will have to do! Let’s face it, for a lot of students this will automatically dis-engage them from the subject. On a side note; if learning is always based around having to learn it for the exam then I can say that take up in that subject later in life will become less likely… We all know the students who say that they are not doing this subject or that subject because it is boring! So make it interesting… As a teacher pass on that passion you have for your subject and engage the young person. Again, this can easily be done through a real world context.
Another positive side effect of a young person being engaged in learning is that they will demonstrate a positive behaviour for learning. As a teacher you will start to notice that they are now starting to ask questions (inquire) about the subject or learning outcome. Why not take this further? What about rewarding the learner for asking questions about the real world context, rather than for what they get right? I liken this to being a fisherman. You use the hook (real world context) to catch the fish (learner). Then in order to reel them in you get them to ask questions and then reward them for the question that they ask. All the time that this is happening the fisherman (teacher) is bringing the fish (learner) closer to the shore (learning outcome) through the deep waters (inquiry led deeper learning strategy). This thinking can form the basis of many lesson activities in the classroom.
This is how learners demonstrate deeper learning and it will ultimately ensure that they do not forget that learning. Learning stays in their mind because it has a purpose for them, a real reason to have it. It also creates the spark for them to want to know more.
To be able to use this strategy effectively it is important to get to know your learners. Find out something about them. It could be a future career choice, it could be something that they are interested in. Use this in the learning that takes place as a hook to catch learners every lesson. Unless you are a superhero I doubt that you will be able to match every learner’s interest or aspiration to every learning outcome. However if you try to link the real world to learning in every lesson it will come to pass that more and more learners will be hooked at various points. I actually think you will be surprised that learners will even start to develop their own hooks for the learning that you had not even thought of!
THIS is why ALL learning must be linked to the real world for deeper understanding, better knowledge recall and moreover long term academic achievement. Future blogs will concentrate on the ‘process’ of learning and how we can make learning more interesting, engaging, thought provoking, inquiry (learner) led and based on the needs of life and work in the modern world. The focus of learning must be on the process, linked to the real world and should facilitate learners to develop skills in lifelong learning. It should not be based on the initial test/exam score or young people may find themselves in the same position as this chap in the cartoon below.