What’s the purpose of each grade or class?

My 8 year old was talking about something the other day – I wish I could crawl inside her mind for a day…she has an amazing thought process!

And she asked me “So 1st grade gets you ready for 2nd grade and 2nd grade gets you ready for 3rd grade.  What does the last grade, 12th grade, get you ready for?  To be an adult?”

She once again has said something that makes me have eye-opening clarity (I talked about it another time in a post here).

Clearly she has gotten the notion somewhere in her K-3rd grade schooling that the purpose of each grade is to prepare you for the enxt.

I’ve talked in many of my workshops and presentations about providing relevance and motivation to students (and you can also read about it in Daniel Pink’s Drive – I highly recommend it).  I wrote my chemistry textbook on the premise that students need omni-present relevance to learn (that’s just how our brain works – the brain needs to understand something and find relevance or connection in order for it to be stored in long-term memory).

How many times do we hear students ask “When am I ever going to need to know this?”  That isn’t (usually) teenagers being flippant teenagers.  It’s their brain asking for a reason to learn something.  And what reason did I give more often than not for many years (before I converted to thematic teaching): “Because you need it for [future topic, future course, future grade level, college, etc.]”

That’s exactly where my daughter has gotten this notion – because we, as teachers, all too often tell students that the reason we do things in our courses is to prepare them for the next level.

Isn’t what we’re doing relevant in it’s own right?  Does everything have to be about preparing for the next step?  Shouldn’t the things we teach be able to stand on their own merit for why we’re teaching them?

And what have we (subconsciously) taught the students by having this “you need it for the next level” motto – that what we’re doing right now isn’t important.  It’s only that last step in the process that’s important.  Even if we, the teachers, know there’s more to what we’re doing than getting them to the next course or grade, we need to get the students to know that, too.

And to hear it expressed so clearly by an 8 year old means that we’re entrenching it in them at a very young age!

Let’s stop using the “next level” as a reason for why we do things.  Let’s do things that have a real, immediate, important relevance to the STUDENT (or if what we’re doing already does have that, then let’s explicitly SHOW it to them so they’re aware of it!)

Let’s make education about the journey, not the goal…and make sure that the students are aware of this.

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