“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry….it is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” — Albert Einstein.
One of the most encouraging aspects of teaching has been seeing that my students are actually enjoying learning. Unfortunately, I did not experience this until three months into teaching.
I began the year expecting my students to simply do whatever it was I asked them to do, even if I thought it was fun but they did not. But once they began to discern that some things were more fun (singing, playing games, etc.) and others were not (looking at the board, repeating what I say, writing what I tell them to write, etc.) it had been a constant struggle to keep them engaged in the work I was giving them to do no matter what consequences there were for daydreaming.
Then I decided to actually apply what I had learned from an inspiring book about teaching in which lies the quote stated above (the book is called Soul Shapers and I highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for education, parenting, or working with kids in general).
I began to come up with activities in which my students could stay engaged, have fun, and learn at the same time. We do things like spelling races, draw and guess games, speaking trains, play-dough presentations, and team word building; and now I’ve begun to create worksheets that make the material more relevant, lively, easy to understand, and open to creativity while still directing the student to complete the work accurately. (Such scenes from these activities may be found on Facebook).
When I began to explain things with more enthusiasm and in different ways I could tell immediately my students were much more engaged and eager to learn. However, if ever I conveyed a sense of compulsion, cold direction, or unreasonable demand in which the student would not see the value of the work, its benefit to their understanding of the material or their learning in general, then they would immediately lose motivation, and often times just shut down. Their excitement for learning would be quenched, and they would either produce incorrect work, messy work, or both. But now when I tell them they are going to have a test, they all cheer and dance!
This isn’t to say my class is fun all the time. We do have some hard days. Sometimes I may run out of creative juices or forget an item that is essential to a learning activity and then I must resort to other, less fun, but still effective methods of learning. But even in those circumstances I much rather resort to activities that will inspire learning and activate the memory and creative genius of the student.
For instance, one day early on in the year I had not planned enough activities in my lesson for that day but I was supposed to teach for ten more minutes! I decided it wouldn’t hurt for the students to make some connections in their brain from words to pictures, so I had the students come to the board and illustrate whatever word I gave them to read, but they couldn’t share the word with the class.
All of my students drew brilliant stick figures and flowers larger than the sun, but when it came to one student, I was a little concerned. He had yet to pass a quiz or test and he always had trouble giving the right answers in class. I didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the class, but he, being the cheery student that he is, jumped right up for the task. I gave him the word card to read and let him think for a moment before he went to the board to draw what he thought it said.
I then sat back and watched him begin, and right from the start I could tell something was different about his drawing. Especially in the way he drew. It was unique among the students. Each stroke of the pen was delivered with such grace and finesse. Every line was carefully planned and directed. And when he wanted to mend the contour, it was adjusted gently and intently as if any sudden change would disturb the second dimension of his creation.
As his work continued tears began to form in my eyes (though I wouldn’t think to let a single one roll in front of my students).
I had never witnessed anything so profound from one of my students. Not only was his depiction accurate, it was immaculate. It was beautiful.
When he was finished, I let the class out to play and stepped to the side with my student to tell him how much I appreciated his work. I remembered that day that many students have strengths in many other areas and for them to be successful those strengths need to be employed by the will of the student and not by any demand of the teacher.
I have been trying increasingly to include all avenues of learning into my classes (music, drawing, writing, speaking, listening, acting, etc.) In fact, when this transition came around, I found myself growing frustrated with the students who would always ask, “Teacher. Draw?”, as if they needed someone to tell them when to enjoy their imagination and make connections between words and pictures, something tangible and relatable. If they want to draw, they should draw, but for the students that don’t want to, I cannot force them. I can only create an environment in which the student has every opportunity to learn in.
It is my challenge and desire to create an enjoyable and practical learning experience for my students. Ironically though, when I feel that I cannot find the energy, I know I need to force myself to put in the effort, and sometimes I even fail to maintain that. I know I cannot please everyone all at once (at least it hasn’t worked yet!) and I still have a lot to improve on (things like discipline, grading, explanation, etc.), but I trust that if I do my best, get some rest, and keep looking for improvement, learning can and will be fun.