It is so important that our students take the content we teach them and make connections to their lives in some meaningful way. One way that I do this is by having my students analyze a NY Times Science article every Tuesday. Then, using a specific rubric, I rate their analysis giving them immediate feedback. Part of the writing assignment is to explain how the science article they have just summarized affects their life in some way. I find that if students can make these types of connections, science is more meaningful. Anyone else care to share their best practices?
I, too, use Socratic Seminars in my classroom. Each student is assigned a particular job in addition to having read the material. They must prepare for their jobs by looking at the piece from different angles, and then bringing that to the table for discussion. By putting the responsibility of learning on their shoulders, and by giving them an option/avenue to discuss their ideas, connections, revelations, predictions, opinions about a piece, it makes it relevant to them in a way I can't always bring about. We have great discussions, and their connections to TV, other literature, songs, current events, etc. makes the class stimulating and fun for all of us.
Making connections is an important strategy for reading. Science is a subject area that uses nonfiction textbooks that are sometimes daunting to students. You are smart to seek ways to help your students engage with the content area by providing them pieces of text to identify connections with.
Connecting to the text is classified by reading teachers as either text-to-self (T-S), text-to-world (T-W), or text-to-text (T-T). The Connections strategy is commonly used throughout the reading process (before, during, and after). As the wording suggests, "text-to-self" involves students connecting what they read to their own lives, "text-to-world" is connecting their reading to other people and events, and "text-to-text" is making connections with other reading.
As a literature teacher, I like to connect whatever we're reading to the historical context of both the time in which it was written and the time in which it was set. I'm always asking, "Have you talked about X in history yet?" or "Remember the X you studied in history?" That's more about connectivity than relevance, though, so I also look for references to our texts in songs, TV shows, movies, or whatever. (If you haven't yet run across it, "The Gilmore Girls" is a constant and plentiful source of literary allusions.) If they understand the texts, they understand the references and their experience with the more modern work becomes richer. It's kind of like being "in" on an inside joke--nothing really happens if you don't get it, but it feels great to get the joke when others don't. and the pleasure of the moment is enhanced. I consistently hear from students, past and present, when they run across a literary allusion they appreciate. Kind of shallow, I guess, but it works for me.
I've become really good at taking something that many students might never use again in "real life" as lessons in perseverence and self-control. I honestly try to avoid mundane lessons but I'm not above admitting that for some of my students, high school really is the last time in their lives that they will have to write an essay. But I still think that every educational endeavor is practice for something in life. Learning to write a cohesive and effective argumentative essay, for example, is just as much a lesson in communication as it is writing and academia, and communication is one of the keys to success in anything.
I think something I try to emphasize with every lesson is bigger picture in achieving an education. So many students think it is just a box to check off and move on. Of course it is much more than that.
I find Socratic seminars to be one of the best methods I have of helping students to make their own real-world connections to our curricula. Because these seminars--particularly with the right selection of text as a springboard--help students synthesize and synergize both the content they are learning with the skills they are learning, those real-world connections are often far easier to make. And, because the strategy empowers students to direct their own discussion and learning, the ownership of the discussion enhances the insight they generate.
I think it is absolutely vital that students are able to see the point of what they are studying. Therefore for me I always try to establish connections with the novel or poem or play we are studying and the real world before we even look at the novel. Establishing such universal themes as love, revenge and hatred etc provides a stepping stone to understanding the text as a whole because students are able to relate with characters and the message of the story. In socials it is so important to do this to make students understand how what is happening in the world impinges on them - I too use the article method outlined in #1, but I also take general issues raised by texts and we debate them in class before looking at the actual text.
I always try to relate what I am teaching to real world experiences. When they are able to see this connection, they become more enthused and interested. If students think that what they are learning has no meaning in their lives then they generally do not take the lesson as seriously.
I was heavily influenced by the writings of Theodore Sizer, including Horace's Compromise and Horace's School. One of the things he said was that students can only be as excited about a subject as their teachers are. Our profession, I believe, requires a bit of acting. Enthusiasm spreads in a classroom, so I like to offer it whenever possible, plus, it makes my day much more interesting.