Saturday, September 27, 2008

Joyful Learning

Children enjoying a science experiment.Marina Bay School

I was sent an article recently by Steven Wolk, from the Educational Leadership magazine, that should be compulsory reading for all teachers.

Wolk introduces his article by saying, 'joyful learning can flourish in your school if you give joy a chance'.

John Dewey, in 1936, wrote that 'to what avail if students absorb prescribed amounts of information.... if in the process the individual loses his own soul'. More recently, in 1984, John Goodland in his book 'A Place called School' after surveying high schools, wrote that he found an 'extraordinary sameness' and that 'boredom was a disease of endemic proportions, ' he asked, ,why are schools not places of joy?'

Even our 'new', progressive, NZ Curriculum dropped out of its final copy that schools should develop 'a love of learning', present in an earlier draft.

Although written for an American audience Wolk's ideas are relevant to us in NZ. Schools, he writes, should 'be joyful places where the minds of young children are wide open to the wonders of learning and the fascinating complexities of life'.

Wolk provides ideas for teachers to action to avoid the destructive powers that Dewey mentioned. Wolk writes,'what happens in schools has a deep and lasting effect on the mindsets that children develop towards life long learning.'

It gets back, Wolk writes, to the purpose of learning. What dispositions, he asks , do we want to cultivate? 'Is joy mentioned in any list'?

Wolk does not equate joy with simply having fun seeing it as being gained as the result of doing something personally satisfying.

Wolk outlines eleven essentials to put more joy into learning.

1 Find Pleasure in learning. With pleasurable learning we don't mind possible difficulties invoved in any in learning; we tend to see them as a natural part of learning, so we are far more open to taking risks. Schools need to tap into what children enjoy learning about and also make all school learning more enjoyable.

2 Give Students Choice. How much choice ( or 'ownership') do students have about their learning? Students can be given choices during the school day. Students can be given choice in their studies, the questions they want to explore, and how they wish to express their ideas. Schooling ought to inspire children to ask questions able to design their own tasks.

3 Let Students Create Things. People like to make stuff. Creating something original gives us a tremendous sense of agency and pride. As well, creating things gives us an appreciation of the creative process in action.

4 Show off Students Work. Our schools, and classrooms, should be brimming with wonderful, original student work. Classrooms should 'speak' to visitors.

5 Take Time to Tinker. We all learn by fooling around. Student's imaginative ideas , their intuitive leaps of imagination, should be encouraged. All too often our schools are too planned, leaving no room for spontaneity. We need to free teachers to take risks, experiment, to play with the art of pedagogy, and to feel the joy that comes from such on open approach to teaching.

6 Make school Places Inviting. All spaces, inside and outside of schools, need to be seen as learning spaces.

7 Get Outside. More of the school day should be outside. Fresh air and a sunny day can do miracles for the human spirit. Children need to have their sensory awareness expanded.To sit under a tree to read, draw, think, or talk. Much of our science could directly include the outdoors. Ecosystems are all around.

8 Read Good Books. Make sharing good literature an important feature of all classrooms. Give students time to share their own stories. All study topics have themes which provide opportunities to introduce good literature.

9 More Physical Education and Arts. In America many students have no art, music, and drama and little time for PE. For many students these are the areas that many children have strengths in and gain joy from.

10 Transform Assessment. Assessment is a pert of life and students need to see it as an important part of the learning process. We should make more use of immediate feedback, narrative assessment, self assessment, portfolios of authentic work, presentations, exhibitions and performances.

11 Have Fun Together. Teachers need to take a break from the seriousness of the school day and have some fun together. Anything that tears down the walls that often get built inside schools and builds more caring relationships is to be encouraged

Wolk concludes by referring back to John Dewey quote and says that schools can sap our souls is just as true for teachers as it is for students

If principals can help teachers find joy in their work
, and help their teachers strive to 'own their own teaching' the teachers can enter their rooms every morning enthusiastic to help their students experience joy in their learning.


Anonymous said...

Very enJOYable!

Anonymous said...

More Joy in schools!

Jody Hayes said...

Hi Bruce,
You could contribute to the JOY of my class by sending a rock sample from your part of New Zealand (read the blog on the link ... it explains why). Get into the world give Navigators and I joy.