Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It's OK to be Relevant!

     In a time that is constantly being changed by technology, the media, music, and movies, we as teachers should make it a priority to provide relevant instruction for our students.  Although some movies and music may not be our "cup of tea", they matter to students.  Ask students what they are interested in, and provide them outlets to express their individuality and ideas.
     For example, students in my literature classes are required to keep a journal.  The journal cannot be used for notes (from my class or any other) and cannot be used to hold any items other than their personal writing.  Each day, I post a writing prompt on the board, and they can write to the prompt or simply write about whatever is on their minds for the day.  I purposefully take a "Dear Diary" approach in which students can share who they are without feeling judged or criticized for who they are.  Some students write to the prompt, and fulfill their page requirements, while others truly grasp the freedom of writing their innermost thoughts on paper.  I of course warn them, "Do not lose this prized possession!"  I have gotten to know some of my students on deeper levels from this activity, and oftentimes students will return after they have graduated to say they have kept their journal from freshman year and cannot believe the person they were, and who they have become.  How amazing!  They are giving an avenue to be themselves, and document their life journeys.
    Another example, and an easy avenue, is through music and film.  Music and poetry go hand in hand.  Choose songs and lyrics that not only maintain poetic devices, but also represent our students' generation.  Even better: make a connection to a former artist or poet who shares similar thoughts.  Students will discover that they are not so different from people from generations past.  A wonderful resource is a book called Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics.  My students enjoy a day long study of Eminem's amazing ability to make rhymes out of words that don't seem to rhyme, to create beats without music--by simply using the natural stresses in language to guide his lyrics.
     It is all to easy to "find a groove" as a teacher and not grow to include content that is relevant to students who are constantly changing and growing.  Challenge yourself to do some "cultural research" on the students of today, make a more culturally relevant lesson, and see what you can learn!

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