Monday, April 7, 2008

Should Learning Be Fun?

Mark Pullen asked in his post Working hard vs. the joy of learning, Is learning supposed to be hard work or a joyful process? Or is it not an either/or situation? I also read another article “The Neuroscience of Joyful Education” which was very enlightening and states, “The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt.”

I think that learning should be a balance of both but that might be because learning is hard work for me but I love learning. For my special education students, learning is very hard for them and by the time they reach the high school it has been a traumatic experience. They cannot imagine learning being fun because it is such a hard struggle for them.

I usually start off the year by giving assignments that they can be successful doing. This may need to be accomplished by using technology or peer tutors. I will take whatever steps necessary the first couple of weeks for my students to be successful. Since their self esteem is already so low, many of them feel like they shouldn’t bother trying since they think they will fail anyway. I start off on emphasizing that the effort is what is important during this time and they will receive credit for how much effort they put into the assignment even if they get all of the answers wrong. This kinds of shocks them but I tell them it is like exercising. We need to build up to working on accuracy but right now we are focusing on endurance. After 2 weeks, they feel more successful and willing to take some risks. I have also established a rapport and some trust within our relationship. They have learned that I will not humiliate them or degrade them if they make mistakes and will not let others do so either.

Now I start focusing on their individual weaknesses and try work on building them up so they cease to be weaknesses. I explain to the students that they will be working on different skills because just like people who grocery shop for different foods because they have different needs, we will do the same in the classroom. Students seem to respect this view and are more respectful to others with different weaknesses. As they find success in their work, many students are excited about learning more new things as long as I don’t overwhelm them. I have heard from many parents that their children are coming home smiling, talking about school, and even looking forward to going to school for the first time. I remember being in elementary school where I had a great third grade teacher who made learning fun for me and I think it stuck with me and I wanted my students to feel the same way as I do about learning. They may never feel the enthusiasm and love that I feel for learning but if they could feel that learning is not something to be terrified or avoided, I would be happy.

Some teachers have disagreed with me about my process in doing this because they don’t have the time to do this. I feel that we need to make the time in order to make the rest of the year more productive. The students are more receptive and willing to learn which would make a teacher’s life much easier. That rapport and trust will go a long way when the student is being taught a difficult skill and feels frustrated. I know this strategy has worked for me for many years and might not work for everyone. How do you provide successful opportunities for your students or do you even do this? Please share and let me know.

Photo credit: Learning to Fly by firma


Mathew said...

Ideally hard work and joy don't have to mutually exclusive. I do think we need to make what we're teaching a little fun and teach the value of hard work along the way. Planning activities so that all students can be successful, as you say, is important in building confidence.

Rookie said...

Hi Pat! You may not remember me, but we met back in the fall when you came out to Lake Conestee Nature Park (where I work) to help with a Turtles Trail Maintenance day. I was somehow added to the Turtles mailing list, and saw your blog at the bottom of one of your emails. I've been reading it for a few weeks, and really enjoy it! It couldn't have been better timing, as I was just recently offered a position to teach high school science. I'm going through an alternative certification pathway (ABCTE) that is new in SC, and scrambling to figure out what is expected of me and how to prepare for the fall. Your posts have given me a lot to think about, and I really appreciate your willingness to share all of the insights you have gained through your years of teaching. Thanks!

loonyhiker said...

Mathew: I guess that goes along with the saying: No pain, no gain. You are so right that the value of hard work is important and we need to teach students that to be successful, they will need to work hard too.

loonyhiker said...

rookie (Andrea): Of course I remember you! I'm so excited about your new position and glad that my blog can help you. If you need help in any way (suggestions, ideas, or just to vent), feel free to contact me (email is the best way). Good luck in your new job! I know you will be great!