How do entice students to learn? After getting their attention, how do you maintain their interest in learning?
These are very important questions that teachers deal with every day. Your personal experience from a class, seminar, or conference may have given you the notion that most learning is really boring.
This has been my feeling when I eavesdropped and heard these comments from students and participants in a conference and a forum that I attended last month: “the speaker is … monotonous, speaks too soft, lacks energy and enthusiasm … highly predictable, static, lacks sense of humor, etc.”
Hearing those feedbacks frightened me as a teacher. I realized that when teaching is flat and boring, learning is significantly impeded or sometimes doesn’t even happen at all. On the other hand, when teaching is fun and interesting, we learn much, retain what we’ve learned and are able to apply it in the future .
Does “fun” get in the way of learning?
I agree that sometimes, fun gets in the way of learning. More fun doesn’t always mean more learning. John Dewey made a very clear point when he said “teachers can’t make boring lesson interesting by mixing fun”. But, Dewey mentioned that in 1913, exactly 100 years ago. Of course, things have changed. We are now in the 21st century! With the education revolution that’s happening in many parts of the world, access to all sorts of information via google and the influence of technology to teaching and learning, I believe that the single most important aspect of learning today is catching and holding the learners’ attention.
To attract and keep the attention of our students, we should light the spot of curiosity and surprise among them. One of the best ways to do that is to infuse “fun” in teaching. Fun teaching requires a paradigm shift or change in mindset. Filipino teachers face a great challenge to innovate because of standardization in our school system. Fun and interesting teaching (FIT) can only take place when a teacher thinks of diversity and individualization more than conformity. Sadly, compliance becomes a very serious aspect of a most teachers lives especially those employed in public schools.
Teaching is an art
Sir Ken Robinson (a YouTube sensation on education) repeatedly said in his public lectures, “no school is better than its teachers”.
For me, this statement suggests that every teacher can start a new way of thinking in education. It is true that learning takes place inside the classroom not from the principal’s office, boardroom, or the legislative halls of congress.
Our task as teachers (aspiring to be great teachers) is to make students curios, to make learning fun, to stimulate thinking, to provoke, and to engage students in learning.
Ways to make learning “fun”
There are many ways to make learning fun and interesting. Catching and holding the attention of your students is the first step. The second but a more crucial step is maintaining an intrinsically motivating learning environment.
In my memory improvement (MIE) workshops, I always tell my students that there is nothing to remember, comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, or create if they fail to pay attention in the first place. This may be one of the reasons why Robert Gagne (1985) puts “gaining attention” as the first in his nine instructional events.
In our intensive coaching for the licensure examination for teachers (LET), we have proven that the use of appropriate energizers and ice-breakers (especially in adult learning) can make an intrinsically motivating learning environment. Thomas Malone and Mark Lepper (1985) used the words fun, interesting, captivating, and enjoyable interchangeably to describe an intrinsically motivating learning environment.
Through songs, dances, and “ridiculously fun” ice-breakers, a teacher can inject curiosity among students. Curiosity as a source of motivation is an effective way to remove drudgery and disinterest among adult learners. In fact, Steven Reiss (2004) listed curiosity, the need to think, as one of the sixteen basic human motivations.
Our ee you xperiences in coaching adult learners at MindGym Philippines support the assumptions that catching and holding attention, making learning “fun”, motivating and arousing curiosity among learners are the most important conditions for achievement.
Applying your knowledge of theater arts
Gail Godwin said that “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”
There is no need to belabor that point. A teacher is an actor and the classroom, his stage. Theater is the relationship between an actor and his audience. Similarly, a classroom (or any space) is where learning takes place through the interaction between a teacher and the learners.
Despite advances in technology, a teacher can never be replaced. Since teachers are the most effective visual aids in the classroom, laboratory, or gym, it is vital that he or she captures the learners’ attention by being “fun” and interesting.
Knowledge of basic theater arts – voice projection, use of space, body, and sounds, improvisation, characterization, and even gesturing can add spice to teaching. Thus, a good teacher has to express emotions freely, be aware of his body, attuned to surroundings, change voice projection and even personalities. He or she should definitely be confident in his or her “performance”.
Are you FIT?
When was the last time you consciously checked the tone of your voice, gestures, movements, facial expressions, and over-all appearance to help your students learn powerfully? Have you ever sang or danced in class, laughed-out-loud with your students, or acted-out to make learning a breeze? Or, just like many, have you been the ordinary Miss or Sir in school who just follows whatever practices your senior co-teachers have been doing?
I know that all teachers are tremendously talented. We wouldn’t be good teachers if we can’t influence our students to learn by using our God-given gifts. Though we have to follow school rules which oftentimes stunt our creativity and show of talents in class, there’s no harm in injecting fun in our classrooms. After all, at the end of the school year, it is the teacher who made students enjoy in class — who gets remembered most and whose lessons would surely stick for a longer time.
So in your next class or training, be a FIT (fun, interesting teacher)!
Remind yourself occasionally: “It’s showtime!”