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The Relevance Triad © - Let the Magic Begin!

Learning, when that lightbulb ignites, is magical! But, it's not accidental. It happens within the intentional application of the Relevance Triad, focusing especially on the A/C line.

Traditionally, the prevailing model of instruction has employed a one-way approach. We regrettably see children as empty vessels when they arrive at school - vessels to be filled by the content experts they encounter in classrooms. It is a model that is teacher dominated. "I teach, you learn." It's frequently a numbing experience. If you doubt my perception, ask any ten students this simple question, "how's school?" and listen to their assessment.

In previous posts, I have discussed the experiences of children, all of the wisdom they gather outside of the school house, as sitting on the A/B line of the triangle being used to illustrate the Relevance Triad. What they know and what they bring to the enterprise of learning is a rich treasure that is frequently overlooked or diminished within the pressure of designing instruction in a standards-based environment. Additionally, I have described the experience students face in school along the B/C line - the curriculum and content, matched with the behaviors and approaches of their teachers. Again, we conduct a disservice by relying on historical, traditional approaches - teaching as we were taught, rather than embracing to power and promise of rethinking the role of the teacher in the process of relevant learning. (Please review my previous two posts.) Kids and well intentioned adults make up two lines of promise on the triangle that I label the triad.

The selection of a three-sided figure to illustrate my point is influenced by my ongoing and building curiosity and interest on the concept of the Third Space. The metaphor of "the third space" is increasingly seeing a place in ongoing research on discourse analysis. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley define third space as "a space where students' unofficial scripts (first space) find authentic interaction with the "official" scripts of schools and teachers (second space) - a space within which counter-hegemonic activity, or contestation of dominant discourse, can occur for both students and teachers." To further understand this concept, I refer to an example contained in a 2005 report by the Arts Education Partnership titled Third Space: When Learning Matters. "The term third space has a history in the arts in describing the way in which meaning exists, not in a viewer alone (the first space) or a piece of art (the second space), but the interaction between the two - where the viewer brings his or her own experiences and imagination to bear in the interpretation of the artwork."

"The interaction between the two." There is tremendous opportunity in that phrase. The concept of a third space suggests that learning is not a binary relationship (kids and teachers) with a one-way delivery model. There is a third element required - a meaningful interaction of the strengths, the promise, by paying attention to the collaborative opportunities of the other two sides of this triad. There is a third line, a third space, that must be explored.

Daydream with me. Let me attempt to paint a picture of what this triad might look like. Imagine a group of students who's stories are known and valued, and their aspirations and interests are placed at the very center of instructional decisions. Imagine a teacher who does not see himself/herself as the authority to be pleased, but rather as the resource, the facilitator, the lead collaborator in an environment that spins on the expectation of inquiry and creativity. Imagine a classroom where students pose their own questions and design their own answers with the support of their teacher-guide. This is the magic, the power, of the A/C line. Can you see it? Does it excite you? It does me, and more importantly it will excite and engage students. An environment like this is one that students will find relevant.

A simple, yet profound, question rests at this threshold: does the profession have the guts, the will, to make this shift? After all, an adjustment of attitudes, those that define practices, are what is required.

How would students who are exploring the model of the Relevance Triad answer the question, "how's school?" My bet is that their response would be remarkably different from the assessments of students trapped in our current model.

What if . . . ?

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