Dive Brief:

  • As students adopted digital communication at an increasing rate since the pandemic started, high school teacher Benjamin Barbour turned this communication into a teaching opportunity, detailing for Edutopia how he showed his students the benefits of using formal language, how it can demonstrate respect for a reader, and even help the writer stand out.
  • As an entry point, educators can show students examples of informal language and how the presentation of written information makes a difference in formal settings. Barbour suggests educators who want to incorporate formal communication in their own classroom also explicitly tell students this kind of writing will be expected in class, even in messages they send to their teachers.
  • Assignments that encourage this kind of writing could be varied, from penning a note to a fictional pen pal, someone from history or a friend — first, informally, and then shifting that note to something more formal. Educators can also consider awarding extra credit to students who send grammatically accurate email notes.

Dive Insight:

Tying lessons to concepts students understand in their everyday lives can help enliven classroom curriculum. Whether that’s a broader concept like informal communication or something based more on individual values and interests, the benefit of using what’s familiar may lead to learning that feels more relevant, and therefore more approachable.

For example, students studying the Fibonacci sequence in math class may also learn about the Golden Ratio, but can then be shown how these patterns are physically found in nature, from sunflower seed heads they may have in their backyard to swirls of clouds in hurricanes that may have swept over their communities.

A math lesson on algorithms could be tweaked to show the relevance of geometry in architecture, crucial to designing buildings and spaces where families, like their own, may live. At a middle school in Kentucky, 7th-graders were tasked with just this assignment, told to create living spaces for a variety of different groups — from a family of four to college roommates. Students presented their projects to each other, and the results were students who “…were able to clearly articulate their mathematical understanding along with their reasoning for their design decisions,” the researchers who created the project wrote in a 2017 article for “Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.”

Educators who reveal a connection between classroom learning and students’ own lives not only make lessons feel more relevant, but may help learners see the role their education can actually play in the future they imagine for themselves.

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