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Wednesday / November 14

6 Steps to Creating Alternative Lessons for Relevancy

Throughout our careers we have all taught a variety of students in our classrooms. Amongst these diverse learners some of the most challenging have been students who are disengaged in our classes and do not find what we are teaching them as relevant. So, how do we create relevancy for our students within any curriculum? The answer to this timeless question is we must understand their terministic screen—in other words, how they view and interpret the world around them based on their gender, race, class, sexuality, and other group affiliations they may have. How can we effectively teach our students, especially those disengaged from school, if we do not understand how they view and interpret the world?

The first step in creating relevancy is ensuring that we have connected with our students and that we learn from them, thus allowing us to create alternative lessons that resonate with our students. An alternative lesson is one in which the content standard(s) from the curriculum is combined with students’ terministic screens. When we lack students’ terministic screens we must introduce societal issues with which students can connect, issues that students find interesting or that will generate their interest. The process of creating alternative lessons is a simple but not simplistic process.

  1. Analyze the concept(s) you aim to teach your students: Do not take for granted that you know the material you must teach your students. We must carefully assess our own understanding of what we teach in order to find creative ways to create relevancy with the material.
  1. Determine how the concept(s) can be connected to students’ terministic screens or real life situations: You must fuse the material with students’ terministic screens, what you have learned about them overall, or real life events that will resonate with them. Also, you can use yourself and your life experiences when you feel you do not have enough information gathered from students’ terministic screens or experiences. This step is a reflection of what you have learned about your students. If you still feel as if you do not know enough about them or you do not feel comfortable yourself you can use real life events, popular culture or anything else that will bring to life what you are trying to teach your students. Do not ignore what is going on in the world beyond your classroom walls. Bring in the outside world and connect it to learning.
  1. Begin a comprehensive search for visuals, video clips, unique articles, pictures, etc.: In this step, conduct a comprehensive search on the Internet or sort through books, articles, etc, to find the appropriate material you’d like to use. Take your time with this search. This will allow you to find as much relevant material as possible but more importantly it will allow you to make sure you are using credible material.
  1. Piece together all the information to create an alternative lesson around the concept(s) or standard(s) students must learn: This is the step where we bring everything together to create the alternative lesson. You combine the concept or standard, terministic screens of your students or real-life events, and the material you chose from your search.
  1. Determine how you will assess student learning and determine effectiveness of the lesson: Before you deliver an alternative lesson, you must determine what rubric you will use or create to assess student learning. This step is specific to the needs of each individual teacher and the manner in which they assess their students’ progress. This is a crucial part of the process to show the growth that your students experience in your classroom.
  1. Use your alternative lesson with your students: You are now ready to deliver the alternative lesson in your classroom. Remember to be creative and do not restrict yourself, but use discretion as you create these lessons. Alternative lessons are not simply about the creation but also the delivery. At the beginning, the lesson may seem removed from the content that students must learn, but eventually the lesson should connect directly to the intended content. There is no specific duration for alternative lessons. They can be as short or as long as you’d prefer and in some cases they can even be delivered over the course of a few days or weeks.

Keep in mind that if students find the material relevant and engaging, and feel connected to the teacher, they will be far more receptive to learning. Student engagement to the content will help build student teacher relationships, in turn helping students become more connected to school and learning. Our students are not simply students; they are people before they are students. They are diverse in who they are and how they learn, and it is our responsibility to continually find ways to create material that is engaging to them. Alternative lessons offer a framework for you to continually refine what you teach in a manner that will be relevant to the lives of your students. Remember, teaching is about our students and we must continually find ways to evolve in the classroom in order to best serve them.

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Written by

Paul Hernandez, PhD, earned his doctorate in Sociology specializing in the sociology of education, social inequality, and diversity. Dr. Hernandez is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in college access and success, community outreach, and pedagogy for educators working with underserved/underprepared students and students at risk of dropping out of school. As a former faculty member, non-profit administrator and educational consultant, Dr. Hernandez works with higher education institutions, K-12 schools, and non-profit organizations helping them further develop and evolve their work with students and communities. Prior to earning his degrees, he was engulfed in gang culture and deep poverty, surviving on the streets of Los Angeles. Paul openly shares with others his unique personal story of being a youth at risk and how his path has influenced his work. He has learned ways to empower young people traveling a similar path, and through his inspirational messages hopes to share his lessons and passion with those working to address the multitude of challenges faced by diverse populations of youth at risk. Dr. Hernandez has been nationally recognized for his work and was awarded the National Education Association Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award, the Michigan Education Association Elizabeth Siddall Human Rights Award, the Equity in Education award by the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, and an Honors Professor of the Year Award for teaching.

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