Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Relevancy Check: Why Am I Teaching This?

Is It Time for a Relevancy Check?
You know what you're supposed to teach.  It's defined in academic standards implemented by your state and and outlined the curriculum adopted by the district.

You know what your students are expected to know, understand, and do and how deeply they need to know, understand, and be aware of what they're learning.  It's stated in the performance objectives your state's academic standards and set by the questions, problems, and tasks your students your students must answer, address, and accomplish.

However, can you honestly say why you are teaching the ideas, principles, subjects, theories, and topics you you are teaching or even why it is important and vital - or essential - for students to learn these concepts and content?

How often have you been asked by your students - or did you even ask your teachers - why do they need to know this?  What do you tell them?  Do you find yourself at a loss for words and unable to find the connection between academic concepts and real world circumstances?

Then perhaps it's time for you to conduct a relevancy check.

For years, we've been focused on conducting checks for rigor to determine the levels of difficulty and depth of complexity of what we are teaching.  That's what the Common Core State Standards have encouraged and prompted us to do.  However, what we seem to struggle with is to have our students recognize and realize how they can use the academic concepts and content they are learning to address real world circumstances, issues, problems, or situations.

Cognitive Rigor Matrix (Hess, Jones, Carlock& Walkup, 2009)
Hess, Carlock, Jones, and Walkup (2009) developed the concept of cognitive rigor to aligned  Bloom's Taxonomy with Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  They even developed the Cognitive Rigor Matrix to help teachers align the cognitive complexity Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  While most teachers are able to provide questions, problems, and tasks that have students demonstrate higher level thinking, they struggle with challenging and engaging students to extend their thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom.

What most teachers seem to strive for yet struggle with is what has become the elusive D.O.K.-4 Question that extends students' thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom.  With D.O.K.-4, students are challenged and engaged to conduct research and investigations to solve real-world problems with unpredictable outcomes.  The strive has been to connect the academic concepts and content being taught and learned to real-world situations.  The struggle has been for teachers to think about what exactly are those real-world circumstances, issues, problems, are situations.

D.O.K-4 questions are not just about rigor but relevance - the thinking and reasoning behind what we are teaching and how knowledge, understanding, and awareness can be used to answer multidisciplinary questions and address real world issues, problems, and situations.  The D.O.K.-4 establishes the importance and value - or relevancy - of what we are teaching and our students are learning.

To define the relevancy, we need to consider how deeper knowledge and thinking about academic concepts and content can extend across the curriculum and beyond the classroom.  In order to do this, we need to consider the following questions:

  • How could learning these ideas, principles, processes, and theories benefit our students academically, personally, professionally, and socially?
  • How could learning these concepts and content help our students better understand the past, handle the present, and prepare for the future?
  • What is the connection these subjects and topics have globally, nationally, and locally?
Relevancy Check Chart
In order to help teachers recognize and realize the relevancy of what they are teaching, I have developed what I call the Relevancy Check - a chart that will help teachers determine the connection between the academic concepts they are teaching and their importance and value in the real world.  

The first box is where you will identify the concept, content, subject, or topic you are teaching.  For example, perhaps you are teaching fractions, the American Revolution, plate tectonics, or Macbeth.  The second box is where you will list the performance objectives of the standards and clusters you are teaching.  The next set of boxes is where you will determine what is the relevance of what you are teaching academically, personally, professionally, socially; to the past, the present, and future; and globally, nationally, and locally.

Not all of these sections will be answered.  However, there should be more than an academic relevancy to what you are teaching.  Otherwise, why are you teaching it (because it's in the text or the standards are not a good enough reason).

As we head back to campus for another school year, consider how you could use this chart to help you recognize and realize the importance and value - or relevance - of what you're teaching.  If you can't see the relevancy, then perhaps you need to reflect upon your own depth of knowledge of what you are teaching.

- E.M.F.

(To learn more about how you can use the Relevancy Check or how you can receive a professional development training on how to use this tool, please contact us at erik@maverikeducation.comor visit our website at

1 comment:

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