Friday, November 16, 2012

On Whether Learning Should Be Fun

There's been quite a bit of debate in recent years over whether teachers should make their classes fun. A criminally brief synopsis of the sides, which I will label using a frosted shredded wheat metaphor:
  • The unfrosted, shredded-wheat side argues that fun is a distraction and that many important subjects don't lend themselves well to fun: Teaching students how to document research and cite sources is difficult to make fun, but it's certainly critical stuff. The unfrosted side is also skeptical about whether students who are having fun are learning anything.
  • The sugary, frosted side argues that bored students don't learn. Bored students eventually may even disregard or drop out of school if they have too many shredded wheat teachers. Students aren't paying attention unless school is fun, and if they're not paying attention, they can't be learning. To the Frosties, fun is a precondition of learning. 
In a recent seminar I was running on how to teach writing, this subject came up. I ended up writing the following in response to one teacher's discussion board post, and thought I'd repost it here. 
Lessons don't need to be exciting, or funny, or hip, or loaded with pop culture or high energy to not be boring.  
When students are learning something, really learning it, they aren't bored. They might not find the material exciting, but that's not the same thing as finding it boring. "Boring" is an unusual word in that it has many opposites: fun, yes; but also puzzling, curiousterrifying, hypnotic, stressful, soothing, illuminating, thought-provoking, alarming, relaxing, eye-opening, provocative, disturbing. You're not bored when your brain has something to play with.  
"Boring" is a warning signal. It says what you're doing isn't even stimulating students enough for them to learn. It doesn't mean to add clown shoes and funny noises. 

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