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Wednesday
Oct102018

Unexpected consequences

...it’s important to be mindful that relevance in learning is defined by the student, or rather, the student’s interests—not ours. The job of a teacher is not just to teach content, but to help students apply it in meaningful ways to their lives. Plum, Stephen. An Authentic Connection to Learning. Edutopia, Oct 5, 2018

I had a good conversation with my daughter this weekend while taking a long walk. Along with the grandson who is a senior this year, we talked about favorite teachers, high school experiences, and what we liked and didn't like about school. One topic was the lack of relevance in high school and first year college classes. It was something about which even my academically-gifted daughter complained at the time. My only explanation to her then was that these courses were society's way of determining whether one was willing to conform and delay gratification, making one a "safe" member of that society. Not a very satisfactory answer.

Today's students have an option to sitting through irrelevant classes. Oh, they still have to put in the seat time, but may have found ways to pursue relevant (or at least entertaining) information via their phones and computing devices. As I wrote about in "The quiet disruption", I see this as a game changer for what is taught in classrooms and how. Relevance and personalization becomes critical if the teacher is to keep the student engaged. I don't think this was an intended outcome of our 1:1 programs, but it seems to be a consequence.

A second unintended consequence my visit with my daughter's family last week brought to mind is quite different. I learned that my seventh grade grandson Miles, within the first few weeks of starting middle school, formed and found an adult sponsor for a Dungeons and Dragons after school club. It has been extremely popular. What might be the unexpected result?

In Leveraging the Lore of 'Dungeons and Dragons' to Motivate Students to Read and Write. Mind/Shift, October 8, 2018, Paul Davarsi writes:

Once kids are bitten by the [Dungeons and Dragons] bug, they spend hours pouring over the reference guides, web pages and forums, and some even turn to fantasy novels. They often don’t realize that an unintended consequence of their game play is that they become better readers and writers. ...

Students who play are intrinsically motivated to exercise a host of complex and interwoven literacy skills, which they may be more reluctant to practice without the incentive of the game. 

He also describes teachers who use fantasy role-playing games as an introduction to classic works such as Macbeth and Beowulf. Miles may inadvertently creating better readers among his classmates!

Kids are getting harder to teach through traditional methods. Blame it on technology, if you will, but for whatever the reason educators must adapt quickly or prove themselves irrelevant. 

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