Enhancing the relevance of new learning

It is not surprising to see relevance of learning in the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand Curriculum. A lot of research was undertaken in the 1990’s in New Zealand on this and hence teachers in New Zealand have long discussed how relevant and meaningful learning will increase interest, engagement and motivation for learners. What is of interest here though, is that the NZC explanation expands from just relevant contexts for learning to include ideas such as curiosity and learner agency.

Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways.

Curiosity is a bit of an enigma in schools. Speak to any teacher and they will say they value it, but often it is not high in our priorities when designing learning experiences for our classes. Susan Engel’s research found that students’ curiosity decreased as they grew older. She does believe that adult influence is a factor in this. This paper by Engel suggests 4 ways that educators can help students become more curious again.

Sparking curiosity in Science

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Providing Sufficient Opportunities to Learn

This is the 3rd post in a series exploring what the New Zealand Curriculum says is effective pedagogy. The first posts were about Creating a Supportive Learning Environment and Making Connections to Prior Learning and Experience.

Now that we know our students and where their knowledge is at, we can think about our learning design.

Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practise, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts. (NZC p34)

Graham Nuthall’s research in the early 1990’s found that students needed to encounter information 3 times to understand a concept. This also applies for skills based subjects as the Maths BES states: “To achieve fluency, meaningful practice opportunities include significant variations each time, providing students with a sense of the range of possibilities in a topic” (Effective Pedagogy in Mathematics Best Evidence Synthesis, p125).

“The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit and the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.” (Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code)

Neuroscience supports this by explaining how the more often we practice a skill, the more myelin grows around our nerve fibres. Continue reading