In “Understanding by Design” by Wiggins and McTighe there was a nice quote from Jerome Bruner:
For any subject taught in primary school, we might ask [is it] worth an adult’s knowing, and whether having known it as a child makes a person better adult.
I have asked and have peers ask about relevance of topics in multiple classes during my whole education. And I don’t mean if it is important for the exam. Even in primary school students were questioning the need of religious studies, history, and physical education. And we did hear variations of “because I told you so” and uninformative “you will need this when you are an adult”. To a child adulthood seems so very far away. Defining the goals of each class and activity should have been obvious and I don’t know why teachers still fed us those generic answers.
The backwards planning of syllabus really painted a clear picture of how syllabus an classes should be designed to serve a defined purpose. We also need to communicate the importance of each task and class to students, no matter their age or level of expertise. And I don’t mean telling them they will need it to get along with everyone in the world. That could be too broad for students to relate to.
For example the history of my home country, Finland, is a weak spot in my knowledge. I asked why this was important and got a simple “you will need to know about your history, and be able to tell about it to others”. As a 12-year-old that had no connection to my life. It did not feel like my history in the first place with all the politicians and policies. And I could not comprehend, that anyone else would be interested in those things about my country.
Which motivational problems could be solved simply answering the “why?” questions students have in a way that will inspire them? I don’t think it will solve everything or even majority of the problems. But it might be needed to get all the other good changes to really make an impact.