In a recent post we talked about using video in the classroom (and if it is inherently motivating or not) and I got some great responses. One of the key issues seemed to be about having fun in class (in addition to focus and motivation.) I am enjoying my new persona as a crusty curmudgeon who is against fun in the classroom so I thought I’d devote one more post to it. I was recently reminded of a conversation about fun and objectives that appears in The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills. In the conversation the director of a lab elementary school talks about a just completed lesson with a teacher who is found head in hands in a room with photocopied paper turkeys (assuming that I am right in thinking “mimeographed” is the same as photocopied) strewn about. The students have been pasting squares of colored tissue paper to make Thanksgiving collages. The director asks the teacher what’s been going on and get’s the response, “It was an experience for the kids.” The conversation carries on from there…
Director: Why did you go to the trouble of mimeographing the turkeys? Why not just give them a piece of paper and let them be creative, express themselvess?
Teacher: It wasn’t that. It was really a lesson in eye-hand coordination.
Director: Well, then why didn’t you have them outline the turkey? You can’t tell whether they stayed within the line or not when they’ve got them pasted all over the turkey.
Teacher: Well, it really wasn’t that. It was a lesson in conservation.
Teacher: Yes. The kids have been really very wastefull of past. So I was trying to teach them to put just a tiny piece of paste on.
Director: Then why didn’t you give them a piece of past, or a paper of paste, and see how much of their turkey they could finish before they ran out of paste? You can’t tell if there’s a cup of past under some of these turkeys.
Teacher: Oh, for cryin’ out loud, can’t kids just have fun?
Director: Sure they can have fun. What do your kids like to do?
Teacher: The thing they like to do best is just chase out on the school grounds.
Director: Why didn’t you take the last half hour and go around, supervise them while they chased, and you wouldn’t have this mess to clean up?
What strikes me most here (aside from how
harsh direct ive the director is and how she says lots of things I personally don’t want to hear in feedback) is that the teacher is a bit fuzzy about her objectives and continually changes her mind about what is important before finally arriving at having “fun.”
Now, I don’t want to discount fun and I think that there are surely many benefits to having fun in class. Really. I guess my question is that if fun is the most important thing then why don’t we choose the most fun thing to do?
I realize that hangman is an easy target but it’s a pet peeve of mine so I will consider it here. Is it fun? I guess so, kind of. I guess it could be. I guess it could be more fun than a lot of things. It could be more fun than a lot of things that might go on in class. Is there much learning going on? I don’t really think so. My thought at this very moment is that if we give up on learning and decide to simply have fun* that is fine and that is a choice that we might make as a teacher for a variety of reasons. That said, it might be better and more fun for students to chase each other around rather than paste turkeys to paper. Also, I suspect there might also be more fun things than watching a video clip selected by the teacher.
Anything I am missing?
Any hangman defenders out there?
*I do realize that it is very possible to mix the two and that fun and learning are not mutually exclusive.