Many teachers inspired me to become a teacher. Well, a few at least. One of them was a principal that hired me for my first job. There were a lot of great things about her, but one quote stood out, and it speaks to the secret of learning.
We were discussing my plans for a particular project, which she thought were a little different than any she had seen. We went over the merits of it, as well as the possible pitfalls. Mainly, she wanted to see the value in it. While she disagreed with some of the specifics of the project, she acquiesced and offered her reason.
“As long as it is fun for the students.”
How is fun defined?
Now the word “fun” often means different things to different students. To some, it means, “bring video games to class and not do anything academic”. While that might be fun for several of them, that isn’t really what we should do to help them learn. The value isn’t there, outside of maybe a video game design class (which would probably shatter enrollment records from kindergarten through twelfth grade).
Other students tie fun to test scores and grades. No, really. Their enjoyment of a class correlates to their accomplishments. It makes sense. Most students don’t love the classes they struggle with, just like most people don’t enjoy things they aren’t good at. However, many kids have fun doing things they are good at because it allows them to succeed and learn more. Just listen to how much students know about (insert name of current game/movie/and hopefully book here).
Our job may be a lot simpler if every student found so much enjoyment in learning a subject that they strived for success simply because they enjoyed learning. Yet…isn’t that what we do anyway? That’s the dream right? The classroom where the teacher spends their time assisting motivated students that ask questions and focus on the task at hand?
Look, there is no magic word that turns any class into that nirvana. If there was, our summer professional development would last as long as it took the learn that word. There are many good ways to develop that sort of class, and many not so effective ways.
The idea is that the students need to feel like they are having fun. Not because the class is easy or because they can talk to their friends, but because they enjoy the activities that teach the material. If the kids are having fun learning, they are LEARNING. They will want to keep learning.
Again, I wish I was pompous enough to know the secret, because then I’d know the secret. All I can say is to remember that. As the year seems to grind on and you flip the calendar to June, remember that you have the power to make kids say to themselves after a lesson, “That was fun!”
And they won’t even be thinking about what they learned. They’ll just learn.
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