Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Future of Learning

By CynDee Zandes
This article is written by a member of our expert blogging community.

1st grade students from the Staten Island Academy learning an Italian dance as part of their World Cultures day.

Have you ever had to attend a meeting that you didn’t want to go to because the topic had nothing to do with you? Have you ever had to go to a store that just didn’t interest you? Have you ever had to listen to a long-lost acquaintance that you wish would have stayed long-lost? The answer is probably “YES.” Why was this such a torturous experience? The answer is simple, “It didn’t matter to you!” It simply wasn’t relevant. Agreed, relevance is transient. Something can be relevant today and tomorrow it is old news. We have moved on. But the importance of just-in-time relevance makes all the difference. This isn’t true just for us, it is true for youth as well.

In this GOOD video and blog post the microdocumentary's creator, Eli Kaufman, talks about the importance of making learning more relevant to students. This is not a new notion for afterschool. We have long claimed the 3 R’s of Afterschool: relationships, relevance, and rigor. I absolutely agree with Kaufman who says that the role of the teacher must change from the lecturer to the facilitator, mentor and coach. This is the role that afterschool leaders must play. We facilitate learning and work tirelessly to design learning experiences for youth that are relevant to them. So we conduct surveys and Town Hall meetings to find out what interests our students. We offer projects and clubs that youth suggest, and work magic on a day-to-day basis. What we offer youth has to have the possibility of growing and morphing as we are conducting the clubs. We must check in routinely with youth to determine that they are in agreement with our take on relevance.

There is some work being done around blended learning--the combination of technology and teacher time. In afterschool, when we focus on life skills--how to become a good citizen, how to problem solve, and how to become an effective collaborator, the adult in the room is very important. These 21st Century Work Place skills cannot be learned by web-based software along. However, as we work to make learning relevant to each student, technology is a strategy to ensure that learning is both relevant and personal.

What are some of the strategies that you utilize to ensure that your program is relevant to the youth? What are some key differences that you find in youth attitude and participation when the activity is perceived by the youth as relevant?

Photo via (cc) Flickr user SIAcademy