Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone?

tanozzoWhere Has The Joy Of Learning Gone?

by Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed., radteach.com & Terry Heick 

We know that for most children kindergarten is something anticipated with awe and enthusiasm – especially when one or more older siblings are already in school.

There certainly can be anxieties, but they revolve around fear of leaving a parent or the security of the home environment. The idea of being a student is exciting. Most kindergarten or first grade students speak passionately about what they learn and do in school. Fortunately, there is no condemnation from the usual legislative critics that if these youngest children have fun in school, they are not learning.

In the current state of legislated standardization of tests linked to the financial stability of schools, two factors encroach upon the joyous learners by the time they reach 2nd or 3rd grade. There is the pressure for the type of academic achievement that can be measured on standardized tests of superficial rote memory. In addition, many teachers are mistrustful and anxious about how they will be judged by mandated curriculum police or legislative analysts who judge teachers and teaching without benefit of having been trained as professional educators.

Uninformed critics may make erroneous assumptions that if children are laughing, interacting in groups, being creative with art, music, or dance that they are not doing real or important academic work. The result is that teachers have been mandated or feel pressured to preside over more sedate, solemn classrooms with students on the same page in the same book, sitting in straight rows, looking straight ahead at the teacher. These quiet classrooms give the judges who pass by a false sense of security that when they observe discipline and order, real learning is taking place.

The truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.

What we have are classrooms where instead of taking pleasure from learning, students are bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. The changes that are evident from joy-filled kindergartens to highly structured upper elementary school classes have been mandated to do away with what has been propagandized as “feel-good learning.” In fact what is happening is a passage away from students feeling good about learning and themselves as they become discouraged, alienated, bored, or intimidated and ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt about discovery learning.

Connectivity, teachnology such as learning simulations, new learning models such as scenario-based learning, and more already exist to replace the anxiety of performance with the joy of self-initiated discovery. No matter how poetic the argument, actuating these in light of modern pressure, focuses on “proficiency,” and existing biases across schools, districts, and communities about what “real learning” is a tremendous challenge.

But without taking on that challenge, school will remain a passionless, joyless–and for many students soul-crushing–experience that makes students think they hate to learn.

Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone? image attribution flickr user tanozzo


  • Yesterday,the Department of Education in the UK talked of revolution, claiming that now
    it had begun. So what exactly were they referring to? Nothing really. Just
    empty words, another evangelical style speech talking about excellence and
    how schools should be even more focused on results. Revolution?

    Until we seriously re-model education on every level, we can’t use the word
    revolution, because what’s happening at the moment is tinkering – more cream
    is being added to the pie but in the process the pie has become
    unrecognisable. More death by Powerpoint presentations, more big words and
    more big promises, but it’s the framework that needs to change, not the
    furniture. We still think that putting 25 kids in a little room for 60 minutes
    and expecting them to all perform at a high level whilst teaching them the
    same material is going to work.

    The focus is on speed and retention, and I for one don’t understand why intelligence
    is largely based on these two factors. Speed and retention says nothing about
    deep understanding, confidence, human relations.

    As Ken Robinson said, “We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of
    education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast
    food is depleting our physical bodies.”

    They have bite-sized information, of which a decent chunk is just designed to
    be nothing more than memorised. If you have a great faculty for memory,
    chances are you’ll rise to the top. But if you struggle with cramming
    information into your brain, it’s going to be a rocky road.

    After all, it’s been the same way for generations, but now at last there
    seems to be a little more talk about making things better, even though what
    is being suggested is actually very simple. change needs to happen. not for the
    state, not for the economy and not for the school…but for the students.

    The only way to really re-think education is to start with a blank piece of
    paper. Forget the targets, forget the league tables and forget the spin.
    Let’s get back to the young minds and how to inspire.

    So, enough of the negative, what’s the alternative?

    A curriculum that nourishes students is one that gives them REAL time to
    develop, not blocking subjects into these little chunks. Montessori use
    methods with very young children that could very easily be applied to high
    school. Blended learning, or cross-curricular is one method with proven
    results that could certainly be expanded.

    A 3 week block dedicated to (insert subject here) with other subjects tapping
    in is a wonderful way to learn, especially when we give students the freedom
    to seek out information for themselves. It doesn’t make the teacher lazy, but
    what it does do is give the students independence.

    We have to decide what we want education to be. Is it simply a factory for
    facts, or is it a community for deep learning, intrinsically motivated
    students and realistic project work with students able to make real-world

    Kids love a challenge, and in my experience running an in-school agency what
    they really love is to be trusted, not tested. They still learn, but it goes
    a little deeper.

    Let them go and see what they come up with. It’s amazing how they perform.

    But we need to apply a bit of trust and move from teacher to supportive facilitator.

  • Excellent article! I agree 100% I always maintained that the classes I have done best in, were the ones where I enjoyed the subject or that the teacher/professor MADE interesting.

  • “Real learning” is a huge challenge. Yes, a great challenge, but also a long-term, this article, so I learned something more, thank you!スニーカー通販http://www.spmeno.com/

  • While correct in every detail, the article fails to note that what we may see as a new problem for educators is in fact a deficiency of imagination and a disability of the human psyche; we want to control even things we don’t understand. When I see adults angry at children running around a store to look at all the really cool objects on display, I wonder if, some years down the road, those same parents might ask how such smart little children could get such poor grades. The answer is, of course, that parents and teachers tend to value quiet and good behavior more than letting children experience the joy of finding things out.

    There are very few codes of student conduct that disparage failure to learn, but every one I’ve seen has punished failure to follow instructions; disrespect, daydreaming and disorder. A Kindergarten teacher 37 years ago called my then-five-year-old son “incorrigible” because he wouldn’t stay on task for the fifteen minutes her teaching education had told her such children were capable of, and I was severely caned – for insolence – at a UK Prep School in the 1950’s when I couldn’t remember multiplication tables we had drilled on the day before.

    When I thought, recently, that I was seeing the onset of Alzheimer’s Syndrome, I learned, after a lifetime of problems, about the working memory problems associated with high functioning autism. Would that I had known earlier! Much pain could have been avoided, not least the pain my lack of understanding caused my son. Too late learned…

    There is a chorus of disappointment in industry about a lack of innovation. What our engineers may lack – I was one, sans degree, for the thirty years after I retired from the Army – is not education, but an imagination and understanding of how things work. I ask adults, picked at random from those willing to put up with my queries, what makes a dropped ball bounce. Anyone but a professional educator (and I hope I’m right about that) will be surprised when I say a large fraction of the adults I ask can’t say what happens, and an even greater number can’t say why. Gravity makes it fall – everyone says that but no one can say how – and most can at least be led to why the ball bounces, even children, whose recent experience taught them how the feel of a ball will say which one bounces better. But why? All most of us know is a remembered word, not what it means.

    Our remedies are, alas, not doing things differently, but more of the same, more rigorously applied, a classic definition of insanity, but sanctified by a core of professional knowledge unwilling to admit credentials aren’t the answer.

    I taught electronics four years in the Army. I was good at it; I have a natural talent, one I used in unit level training and later in industry as well. Being largely self educated, however, I can’t help. Even if I had a Nobel and a Pulitzer I’d be ruled unfit to teach 8th graders in most states, and there’s something wrong with that; we accept anyone who has good High School grades as potential teachers, but they will teach, most of them, only as well as they were taught. We should turn away most of them! Take those who have the empathy and perceptiveness to see understanding happen, and give them the freedom to walk down each students road to knowledge when they teach. Screen for talent, not grades. All they will need is what they missed learning, and that is easier, faster, less expensive and more likely to work than making them all get PhD’s to teach children why a dropped ball bounces.

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