Literacy and Numeracy

How to Connect to Content with Meaning for Achieving Better Learning

Students are struggling to make effective use of what they learn.

Content alone doesn't guarantee better learning, and it never will. Unfortunately, even after many years teachers often struggle to help students retain the information they are taught. This doesn't just translate to lower test scores, either. From a real-world perspective, it means students are struggling to make effective use of what they learn.

A good example of this is when a graduating student returned to her high school to retake a final exam on which she had scored an A just three months prior. After retaking the test, the results were quite surprising—she earned a C. There were many historical intricacies that she mastered only three months before, but after a long summer break, she could no longer recall them. This scenario goes to show that little to no deep and lasting learning actually takes place in many school settings.

Is there a solution to this? Is there a way to make sure students are not only learning what they are taught but retaining the information for more than a few months? Yes, there is, and it comes in the form of connecting content with meaning. Teaching content alone is an excellent way to get students to remember pieces of information on a short-term basis. However, when it is connected with meaning they are much more likely to retain it for far longer periods of time.

Better Learning through Connection and Relevance

What does it mean to connect content with meaning? When a learner has no reason outside of taking a test to remember information, then there is little to no enticement for them to retain the content on a long-term basis. This is why teachers need to make learning more personable.

If teachers can get learners to see how content impacts them personally, then they're more apt to learn and retain the information.

An excellent way to achieve this is by incorporating today's news events with past happenings. For example, let's say you're teaching about World War I. Having students mine for recent articles about bombings taking place in the same or similar geographical locations bring the content home. Students realize that the same thing is happening today right now, in the world they live in. This can be a moving realization, and it's an effective way to help students connect the dots between the two events.

Content Needs to be Visual

It cannot be stressed enough that content should come in a visual format in order for it to be retained for an extended amount of time. Did you know that according to marketing specialists, only 10 per cent of what people read is actually retained? It's no wonder that students have such a difficult time recalling information straight out of a textbook. On the other end of the spectrum, though, these marketers have conducted studies that prove people are able to retain and recall 65 per cent of the information they read that comes in a visual format, such as an infographic. This means that we are inherently visual learners.

With visual literacy having such a high rate of effectiveness, teachers will do well to make sure their content comes in various forms of visual format. According to Tracy Clark with Getting Smart:

"If we think of literacy as reading and writing words, visual literacy can be described as the ability to both interpret and create visuals. With the constant, overwhelming flow of information and communication today, both parts of this modern literacy equation are non-negotiable."

She goes on to say that visual literacy brings about a multitude of benefits, including:

  • Visual literacy aids in the comprehension of the information and media students come into contact with.
  • This form of literacy allows a deeper interaction with the content being presented in a visual format.
  • Visual literacy initiates high levels of analytical thinking.

Promote Self-Awareness

The overarching goal of teaching is to help students see how what they learn will impact them in the future. For example, the use of division in a third-grade setting may seem a bit complex to the students at first. However, once a teacher ties the learning into situations that are relevant to the students—such as for buying a car when they turn 16 and calculating the monthly payments—this will pique the interest of the students and entice them to learn the information.

It's All About Making Personal Connections

Just like we talked about with self-awareness, the more personal connections teachers can make, the better learning will be. It is vital that learners of all ages be taught the importance of real-world research. Not only does this type of research help make personal connections, but in today's technologically-savvy era, students are likely to enjoy it more. Think about—YouTube and online podcasts are two excellent real-world research sources that most students are already familiar with.

Teachers Don't Have to Do All the Work

When a teacher says the same thing over the over and performs the work for a student, there is little chance that the content is going to be retained for long. Ultimately, we learn by doing and by getting involved.

When teachers allow students to work out the problem themselves, they employ analytical thinking skills which are crucial to retaining information.

Another way to make sure teachers aren't doing all the work is to allow students to pinpoint why they got certain answers wrong. Instead of just telling them they were wrong, students should be able to analyze their work themselves and identify those areas for improvement. Actively looking for mistakes further increases the use of analytical thinking and also initiates problem-solving skills.

The Culture of the Classroom Matters

Students should walk into a class and not dread it, regardless of the subject being taught. If they come in with a poor attitude, this will almost always result in poor learning. By cultivating a classroom culture that lets students know learning is a journey you all take together, this will boost students' desire to attend and actively listen to what is being taught.

The Takeaway

Content, no matter how interesting it is, must be presented to students in a variety of formats for it to be retained. More so, students should be taught in a way that they see how the content is relevant to their lives. If it's not relevant, they are going to have little reason to remember it. With visual content and personal connections, though, content can be retained on a long-term basis.