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Enhancing the relevance of new learning

The better teachers know their students, the more effectively they can gauge what their students will find relevant.

The health education, home economics, and physical education learning areas give teachers many opportunities to stimulate and challenge students. Teachers can do this by selecting contexts and learning experiences that relate directly to things that the students have affinity for, are concerned about, or otherwise find interesting.

Enhancing relevance

Relevance is reinforced when students know how the current learning can be used in their everyday lives, how it might be of value in the future, and how it can contribute to learning in other curriculum areas.

To enhance the relevance of new learning, teachers can:

  • ensure that the students understand what the intended learning is, by explicitly separating what is to be learned from how it will be learned (“This is what we are learning and this is what we are doing to help us learn it.”)
  • provide opportunities for students to share their existing knowledge and reveal gaps in the light of what is to be learned
  • differentiate their teaching so that it addresses needs, builds on strengths, and provides appropriate levels of challenge for the diversity of students in the class
  • support students to connect concepts and their applications so that they can see how the new learning fits into the bigger picture
  • provide real-life issues in which the context is relevant to the student
  • support students to pose and answer their own problems or questions in real-life contexts and encourage them to consider how is this relevant to their families or personal circumstances
  • link the learning to other curriculum areas.

For example, in health education, home economics, and physical education, students learning to write a report (for example, about a health promotion action they have taken) could discuss the conventions they use to write reports in other subjects or find out from teachers the approaches they use.

In physical education, students could write a design brief for technology, such as developing a flotation aid to be used in the aquatics environment. They could also use biophysical principles to test the success of the flotation aid.

Facilitating shared learning

Most learning is constructed from the interactions between people: students, teacher, guest speaker, kaumatua, parents, siblings, whānau, author (of a book), director (of a movie), photographer, employer, contributors (to online forums), sports coach, and so on.

Teachers can encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such a community, everyone has something to offer and everyone is a learner, teachers included. This is captured in the Māori term ako:

The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and also recognises that the learner and whānau cannot be separated.

Ka Hikitea – Managing for Success, Part One, page 20

See also:

Strategies to encourage shared learning

Teachers can encourage shared learning by:

  • facilitating co-operative group and think–pair–share activities to:
    • encourage all the students to share information (for example, by using small whiteboards to display answers)
    • develop students’ use of subject specific-language (for example, by having a list of banned words such as “stuff” and “things” that will incur a fine)
    • create positive interdependence so that students can learn from each other (for example, encouraging a peer checking system)
    • reveal and address any lack of understanding of concepts in a safe environment (for example, by encouraging students to ask clarifying questions).
  • getting students to plan responses to a task in pairs or small groups

    Students could set up group investigations (for example, into health, physical education and home economics challenges faced by communities) and then present their findings to the class.

  • engaging in learning conversations to develop students’ understanding of a topic
  • establishing mixed-ability thinking groups (for example, to identify key messages in resource materials)
  • using vocabulary activities such as “I have … Who has …?” to scaffold students’ understanding and use of topic-specific vocabulary
  • demonstrating that they, the teachers, are also learners within the class by acknowledging that they have (for example) learnt:
    • a different way of analysing a situation as a result of listening to student discussion
    • information about different cultural perspectives on a topic.


Home economics students could:

  • work in groups when preparing a menu for a local early childhood education centre
  • work in teams to identify and justify possible initiatives that the school canteen could take to become more sustainable
  • research and prepare dishes for Diwali or another traditional festival or occasion.

Physical education students could:

  • as a group, plan a performance improvement programme to develop their skills in a chosen sport or activity
  • use question and evaluation cards or questioning cubes to promote student-led discussion about the factors that influence performance.

Health education students could:

  • develop their listening and analytical skills by structuring class or group discussions about community issues or health-promoting initiatives.

Last updated July 30, 2015