New Culture of Learning
Updated: May 10, 2020
"Why aren't we making learning fun and easy? " - Douglas Thomas.
That is the question I have pondered from the moment I walked into the doors of my first classroom. Actually, I think my 15-year-old self asked that question to almost every teacher whose class I found boring. To be fair, I could kind of be a little jerk back then, but still, the question still poses a significant inquiry. Why isn't school more fun?
When I became an educator, it was because I wanted to make a difference. Not only did I want to make learning fun for my students, but I also wanted to advocate for change in the entire educational system. If we do not make learning fun, how can we expect students to stay engaged?
From the very first day of school, I tell my students that I want them to learn how to play.
Instead of the traditional reading of a syllabus, or even icebreakers, I give my kids two activities that day that help welcome them back to school with creativity and simplicity. When students walk into the class, music is playing and I greet them at the door in some crazy costume. Immediately, this interaction separates my classroom from most.
When they find a seat, they also find a paper plate and a mini can of Playdoh. I got this idea from Dave Burgess in his book, Teach Like a Pirate. (Irony - I dressed up like a pirate before reading the book after a friend bought it for me. Great fast read. Highly suggest it!)
There are different ways to use the PlayDoh. I use it to get an idea of how my students think, what interests they have, and what levels of creativity they are at on day one. It also allows me to speak to students individually versus forcing dialogue with a group.
The first day is always interesting learning about the students and watching them create tiny little masterpieces out of PlayDoh. It is one of my favorite days, because there is minimal lecture, and maximum creativity.
For years, I have tried to create a fun, engaging learning environment for my students. What I have learned this year, is that there are aspects of my teaching that I really want to revamp to transform my classroom into a more significant learning environment. I have always given students options, but what I realize now is that within those options, I missed the opportunity to let them have more input in their own learning.
Inspired by the COVA model, I am trying to create a stronger culture of learning and more significant learning environment. I highly suggest checking out the work of Dr. Dwayne Harapnuik and Dr. Tilisa Thibodeaux from Lamar's Educational Leadership (Digital Learning & Leading) department to learn more about the COVA model. Both of them provide a plethora of information on their sites.
My biggest challenge is trying to find the balance between providing more student choice and ensuring all of my students master the required skills to receive college credit for the course. I believe that if I focus more on creating lessons that are more student-centered with an emphasis on how it connects to the real-world, I will be able to transform my learning environment in the right direction.
Authentic learning opportunities enhance my student's experiences and aid in preparing them to be college, career, and life ready. I just have to keep an open mind and not lose sight of my ability to play as well.