Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer Series #1: School Should be Fun(ner)

I'm motivated by fun. If it isn't fun, I'm not terribly interested in doing it.

Laundry? Not fun. Cleaning? Not fun. Nonprofit paperwork? Not fun. Playing with my dog? Fun. Reading? Fun. Making Art? Fun. Results from Nonprofit paperwork? Fun.

When I need to do something that isn't fun, I always attempt to make it fun and/or give myself a fun incentive. For instance, I will tell myself that once the house is clean I will curl up with a book etc. etc. I know you do this, or something similar, as well.

Honestly, as educators, we all probably find learning and researching fun to some degree or another. I mean, why else would we spend so much time doing it? One of the issues I see for us in classroom is that we enjoy learning quite a bit. We all liked school so much that we went on to get college degrees (and even further). And, then, when we still didn't get enough school, we decided to become teachers and thereby make school a major part of our adult lives. The awesomeness of summer vacation notwithstanding, you stay with teaching because you believe in education and school. The issue for us as classroom teachers is that very few of our students love school in the same manner.

Have you ever wondered why school is represented as a place of negative, boring, mind-numbing thoughtlessness in the most popular children's cartoons and children's tv series? It is because above and across the board children -and the adults they grow up to be- believe school sucks. School was not a fun place for them; it was something they endured.

As educators, we are setting ourselves up for failure if we do not acknowledge and plan around this very simple fact.

School needs to be fun.

If you read here regularly, you know I have been fortunate enough to visit Kenya twice. During both of my visits once someone realized I am a teacher the inevitable comment would be made: "You should teach here. The children are so excited to be in school, not like in America." Well, yes, almost all the children I met in Kenya are either proud to be in school, or are looking for a sponsor to put them in school. The educational system in Kenya is very behind in terms of organization and equity. It is only in the past three years that free primary education (up to grade 5 equivalent) has been offered.

When a child's choice is to stay at home and keep house in a mud hut or to go to school and have the possibility of obtaining more for himself/herself than his/her parents, that is a major motivation. To students in Kenya, school IS fun. School -with 60 children to a classroom, textbooks with no pictures, and exceptionally demanding teachers with corporal punishment- is fun because it is much more stimulating than hanging around their homestead.

School is fun to Kenyan students much in the same way school was fun to American settlers: it is a pleasant diversion from the hard manual labor of day-to-day survival. It is fun.

American students are much more sophisticated than students living in third world conditions. They have televisions, quick transportation to friends, extracurricular activities, community centers, organized sports, access to computers, the internet, smart phones. . . . Essentially, they have constant stimulation of their own preference for a large portion of the day.

Personally speaking, if I had a choice between doing what I want to do all day (including having near constant access to stimulating visual information via gaming, internet, and TV) and sitting still in a desk listening to someone lecture me and/or doing written work, I know my answer would be consistent: Let me at the fun!

I've spoken here before about how neurologically speaking, the brain is set to avoid boring situations. If we, as humans, become bored enough, the fear centers of our brains are triggered and release powerful chemicals. Essentially, what this means is that if we become too bored, we become afraid of being in that boring situation again, and as such, avoid it like the plague. Think back on your life; is there a boring situation you fear (mine is babysitting btw)?

There are always naysayers about the classroom being fun. . .And they point out that learning is important and "not everything in life is fun." And, they are 100% correct, and they are right to warn everyone that students will need to learn about how to deal with boredom and self-motivation. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the world is going to consistently force our students to become self-motivated and skilled at dealing with boredom. The DMV, if nothing else, is a perfect example of this.

Our responsibility, as educators, is to teach our students about a subject, to create life-long learners, and to develop character traits that will help our students become the most successful adults they can be (and there are many definitions of success). And, to do this, we need to trigger the "fun" centers of the brain.

Just as the brain can log boring situations as "fearsome places," the brain can too log stimulating situations as "fun." When you are having fun, your brain releases serotonin, and we are all -to some degree or another- addicted to serotonin and to fun. We seek out fun situations more than we seek out anything else.

Our classrooms and our very selves need to be associated with fun for our students.

But, as educators how do we do this? We are not all fun people. We are not all designed to be the coolest teacher ever. For some of us, lecturing and learning that way IS fun. How can we as "lovers of the lecture" diversify for our students?

I have my own thoughts about this and have listed them below. . .But, what are YOUR thoughts? I'm intrigued to know how you create a fun learning atmosphere and how this keeps your kids excited about your learning environment!

My thoughts:

1. Think on your classroom. Think about YOUR students. Based on what you know about what they like is your classroom and environment a place in which they would have interest? How can you add/subtract from your classroom to better suit the interests -and still serve your subject- of your students?

2. Do you act like you truly care about your students as individuals? I've known teachers who are actually quite timid and very traditional in their teaching styles who are enormously popular and thereby interesting and fun to his/her students. The reason? The kids love them because they feel loved in return. It is amazing what a little bit of care can do.

3. What is your teaching style like? In what ways can you enhance your natural skills to become more engaging and interesting to your students? I think it is a mistake to try and be more outgoing when you are not. Instead, work with what you have. For example, I was once struggling to garner respect -and thereby some level of interest- in a group of high school students. Finally one day, I broke down and showed them my art portfolio. Sharing that part of myself -and still maintaining professional distance- earned me HUGE brownie points.












5 comments:

  1. So breaking and and taking our students computers, games systems, and TV's is not an option?? Forcing parents to parent is not an option??? DARN! :) ha ha Thanks for sharing!!!

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  2. I agree with you that schools need to be more "FUN"+"ENGAGING" and "RELEVANT. I care about all my students and can't really help it. This is the kind of person I am..very emotionally done up. But I think students respond to that a lot. I mean they keep in touch with me long after their graduation etc. I was/still am very demanding as a teacher, but my students have always given me plenty of reasons to be really proud of them :') I play music in my art classes, whatever they want to listen to..sometimes I get to play my music. Most importantly I never ever try to change a student into someone he/she is not. If someone is loud, he is allowed to be loud in my class, but only if it's done politely and doesn't interfere with the class. I hope I am making sense here.
    A good of sense of humour is a must for every teacher, regardless of what she teaches.

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  3. Thinking ahead to your job, culturally relevant curriculum is a great way to engage students as well. How boring is a class learning about dead white guys when your family and your community is no where near similar to that. We just had an exhibit in town of an artist named Shinique Smith, an African American artist inspired by calligraphy as well as graffiti. Shaking up your curriculum can really get students interested.

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  4. I agree with Kaycie.rose.k. Content must be relevant. As for the having a class management plan, well it depends on so many things: size of your classroom, number of students, the kind of activity you have planned for them etc. etc.
    I usually have my students rearrange the seats in a different layout, this is the first step in engaging them..and they sort of feel energized by the whole physical activity.
    As for the "dead white guys", well..I am not white or dead, but I do respect old masters. So recently had a unit on art appreciation and the artist in focus was "Van Gogh". I even played Don Mclean's "Starry Night" for them. The whole class responded well to that unit, they said some very sophisticated and mature things in regards to Van Gogh's work and depression..remember this is a school where most students are from single parent family, some have parents who are terminally ill.

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  5. Summer Series #1: School Should be Fun(ner).the author intended by fun. ... For instance, he will tell himself that once the house is clean he will roll up with a product etc. etc. and he knows that you do this, or something similar

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