Friday, February 5, 2016

Always Make Time For Fun

"Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous"

Recently on Inspiration Monday, our 6th grade students were given the opportunity to reflect on the importance of having fun while learning. They expressed unanimously that when learning was fun they were more engaged and thus performed better academically.  Honestly, I was not surprised with their responses but I was thrilled that they were strongly voicing their learning preferences.

They were emphatic in all of my classes that hands on activities brought their learning experiences to life. Lab experiments were especially favored because they enabled direct involvement in the lessons.  They went on to discuss the joy that game playing brought to the learning experience, citing the fun of competing when using Kahoot or Quizlet.
Some even shared the fun they experienced, moving a beach ball throughout the room, during a Q & A review.

Of the five groups that I teach every day, a couple are particularly social. They often challenge each other's ideas and 
felt that creating a structured debate would be a more productive way to learn. 
Admittedly,  I have some early reservations about giving these groups the opportunity to engage in structured debate. However, if the proper scaffolds are put into place and we establish some group norms, I am confident that a memorable and meaningful learning experience will take place.

As the conversation continued the students really settled in. They felt more empowered to discuss their genuine concerns that were relevant to the learning proces.  One student candidly shared that they needed to move while learning because he had trouble attending for long stretches of time otherwise. This authentic nugget of information strengthened what I already knew about the importance of movement and engagement but I was thrilled that this particular student had the courage to share it.

My co-teacher Kathy St. John  continues to demonstrate a keen understanding for the value of movement. On several occasions this year, we have partnered to create station activities that focus on the various learning intelligences of our students. On all occasions our students have been highly motivated and engaged. Her leadership in the planning and the execution of these activities has been vital to the success of our classroom culture this year.

Another interesting revelation took place when our students were asked about having fun when learning independently.
Some students indicated that they take notes using different bright colors of ink, while others cited using food incentives as  they navigated through their study materials.  One student told us that they put  "gummy bears" on the printed page and when they finished reading several paragraphs, they would indulge. Another student told me how their Dad would provide them with a "sweet treat" based on their success during a study session.  Whatever steps were taken to make studying fun, all of my students indicated that they studied better when those steps were taken.

Educators including Dave Burgess and Julie Adams in their books "Teach Like a Pirate"and "Game Changers" respectively, emphasize the positive impact of engagement on student learning. Both publications share proven engagement best practices and are valuleable pedagogical resources. Their research verifies that students learn better when they are engaged and educators are embracing their philosophies around the globe.  

On a cold February day recently, my students reinforced at least three very important lessons for me that were pertinent to their learning.

1. They will provide honest and meaningful feedback about matters that impact their learning.

2. They are especially passionate about their learning when their learning is engaging and fun. (Using familer technology makes a definite difference.)

3. They will not hesitate to make suggestions on how to create a more fun and engaging learning culture.

Usually my intention is to bring inspiration to my students in various ways,especially on Monday. However on this particular Monday, my students inspired me. They inspired me with their commitment to our classroom community and culture. Through a series of honest and reflective answers, they reinforced the value of engagement and fun in learning. Moreover, they unwittingly challenged me to renew my commitment to providing both of these on a more consistent basis.

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