Dangerous fun

Today, I have read two blogs that are explaining that lessons should be fun for children. They both say that fun in lessons is fine and also desirable. They miss the point. Let me make it clear that I would not want any teacher to plan, deliberately, a dull lesson. To squeeze any possible enjoyment that a child might have in taking part in the learning of the lesson.

Too often, in education, we seem to set up this polarisation. ‘Ah, you’re the one who says lessons should not be fun. So that means you want children to have a boring experience in your classroom!’

Poppycock. Nonsense. That is not at all what is being said by those that add a degree of caution tot he ‘fun’ lesson. There are several reasons for this. In no particular order they are:

Working memory is easily disrupted and if we are to learn something, other than skills like riding a bike, it has to go through working memory to get into long term memory. Working memory is a little more complex than this but the best model is by Baddeley and Hitch. This model is quite old and was proposed in 1974. When designing a lesson we have to put the learning up front and be very careful about the way in which we present that learning to children. Daisy Christodolou in her YouTube video explains what children remembered in a lesson she gave on the apostrophe. The lesson was full of fun and based around children planning a day in the life of a village. Far from remembering anything about the apostrophe what they remembered most vividly was that a chin saw was used to cut down the tree. One problem with planning fun. The fun was motivating but also the distraction.

If you think children need to be having fun you might well avoid or minimise particular learning as that particular piece is difficult to make fun. practice is not always the most fun thing one can do and practising to mastery and beyond can be quite a slog. If we believe children should be willing to put up with the boring stuff then we will organise our lesson and our expectations that they will do what is required for learning. We will explain to them, in assemblies perhaps, that to learn requires you to put in the effort even when it is not sugar coated. We might even have a reward system that credited children who showed the grit needed. If we believe they need to learn we will create systems that value those behaviours.

Fun                                              No Fun.  It is not either or. It is a choice we make that ensures the learning content is front stage and that we don’t distort that learning for the sake of fun.

Ask yourself how much are you worried by the fact that your children might misbehave if they do not find the learning fun? Is your learning plan predicated on stopping children misbehaving? Going off task? Not being focused? Is that really what happens if you plan quality learning and don’t mix in enough fun?

Have you ever significantly altered or even removed a part of a lesson because you could not make it fun enough?

Stop it. Plan good lessons and expect good learning behaviours.

I think planning for fun is fine….if we want pupils to remember only the fun.‘ @Benneypenyrheol

4 thoughts on “Dangerous fun

  1. A few quick thoughts …

    – The plural of anecdote is not data.
    – From what I can gather, the ex-teacher you mention was quite inexperienced when she did that lesson.
    – I'm not sure I would choose to teach something as technical as the use of apostrophes through using an 'alternative' ('fun') approach.
    – Learning is not just about memorising.
    – Sometimes we are trying to get to conceptual understanding – this can be very slippy to do.
    – Sometimes your learning objective is to show the children that learning CAN be enjoyable. This is a valid objective, imho, especially if the children do not 'get' this.
    – You cannot just say to a child 'you MUST behave', sometimes you need to motivate them to do this. (Well, you can say that, but children don't always agree.)
    – The children who struggle most with behaviour are typically those you most want to 'reach'.
    – Saying 'do it or get out' means you tend to end up excluding those children who most need your help.

    Perhaps we live in a parallel universe, Peter. 🙂

  2. OK. Thanks for the comments Sue. It may be that we live in the same universe but one where expectations and therefore some actions are different. If children expect to be entertained and expect to be motivated then what happens when they are not. In my universe they are expected to arrive wanting to learn because the rest of the school system will have been set up to make that happen. There will be some, a very few, who will need more work than others. That is always true.

    Daisy has other examples of where what she was taught in training college was poor learning practice.

    I am not sure why you make the memorising comment. But if it not memorised then it can't be learned??

    Concepts are developed through learning about several examples of the concept as well as what is not the concept. It is earning whatever we call it.

    Fine with learning itself being 'fun'.

    I can expect good learning behaviours. It is not just a click my fingers and it happens it is a taught process. I've done it across a very challenging school with some very difficult children. I know it can be done and I know the benefits that resulted.

    And the children who struggle are the ones who most need to be taught how to behave in a class. They often have had no one every show them what good learning behaviours are!!

    I had a very low exclusion rate. I would not just say do it or get out. That would be stupid.

  3. Agree with the unhelpfulness of polarisation. However, you still appear to be polarising the discussion yourself, Peter, by talking about ‘children putting up with the boring stuff’.

    When my daughter was in Y6, she was often bored to tears, literally. She said it was because all they were doing at school was revising for KS2 SATs. Finding this difficult to believe, I talked to her class teacher. She confirmed my daughter’s assessment of the situation, and added “I do try to make the work interesting.” Her justification for the tedium being inflicted on the children was that it was in their long-term interests to do well in KS2 SATs and the route to high achievement was via intensive revision.

    I pointed out that learning was inherently interesting for children – because learning was what they did whether they were taught or not – so it shouldn’t be necessary to have to *make* it interesting; my daughter’s problem was that she wanted to learn but wasn’t learning anything. She was simply rehearsing stuff she already knew, ad nauseam. I also asked how achievement in KS2 SATs was important in the long-term. I was treated to a demonstration of correlation being conflated with causality. Her teacher believed that because KS2 SATs performance predicted GCSE grades, it must therefore be the cause of the GCSE grades. In other words, if you flunked your Y6 SATs, all was lost.

    I took up this issue with the deputy head, who taught my daughter maths, with which my daughter was completely engaged. Between the lines she made it clear that she completely understood the correlation/causality issue, but that she felt like a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

    If you understand what you’re teaching, and the kids understand what they are learning and why it’s important (because it’s part of life, not because some faceless bureaucrat has determined that they should be taught it), the effort is inherently rewarded by understanding, and there’s no need for added sugar-coating or ‘fun’.

  4. Ye. Thanks for the extensive comments. I think that teachers should not need to try to make things that children are learning interesting and I do agree that the purpose matters. I am not keen on the sole purpose being to meet the demands of a terminal examination but ought to be framed in the context of the content.

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