I know that a good answer to “why should I care?” is important in keeping me focused. In addition, being a conceptual learner, knowing the big picture of “what’s the point?” helps me pay attention. Being a boy, I’d much rather be watching or chasing moving objects than studying, so I particularly need a good reason to force myself to concentrate. It goes back to my post about “Little Johnny could care less.” I think teachers all too often do not allow themselves to acknowledge how little their students want to be students. Most little boys, for sure, would much rather be elsewhere (and many big boys too, mostly). Many girls are bored stiff as well. Their higher oxytocin levels helps them pay attention, but only because they want to stay in relationship with their teacher. This may fool the teachers into believing that what they are doing is interesting (and that it is the boys who are the problem) but, all too often, that is not true. Sadly, contraproductively, and frequently, most students would prefer to be somewhere else, doing something else.
I am thinking more and more, that creating a context for the students is essential. A new subject should start with the very big picture of why the students should care. Then we can focus in on how this subject hooks into other things the students already know. Then we can move on to what the students are expected to learn from the experience, making sure the learning objectives are clear to them. Only then can it move into force feeding, err, teaching them the actual subject. Oh, and all this relevance and usefulness should be recapped at the end, after the assessment, in the debrief.
Once again, respect leads to the right choice. It is disrespectful, bordering on insulting, not to acknowledge that the students are not necessarily where the system wants them to be in terms of excitement about learning. The truth is it is a kid’s job to be thinking about anything but school. We know it individually, from our own experience. We do know it collectively, from our literature. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, etc, etc. It is our well-understood American cultural heritage. Ironically, teachers teach that literature, but that particular message is ignored or dismissed.
I am going to honor my students by acknowledging their reality. Then I will build a case for why they should care. Then I will make the experience as relevant, immersive, entertaining, and successful.