Top Three Ways To Take The Joy Out of Learning


Did I catch your attention? Of course, no teacher sets out to design lessons devoid of fun. Yet, all too often, we revert to instructional practices that leave little room for engagement, let alone joy. Here are some strategies that, in my opinion, take the joy out of learning, as well as some ways to bring fun back into your classroom!

Soul-Crushing Activity #1: Stand and Deliver

Lengthy periods of verbal instruction, lectures, and teacher-directed activities where students are passive observers rather than active participants are problematic. Similarly, call and response techniques, where a teacher asks a question and calls on whoever raises their hand, are equally ineffective.

Learning by doing is always better than learning by observing. Think about riding a bike - no one mastered this skill by listening to a lecture on the history of bicycles or receiving verbal directions on how to balance and steer. The only way to really get the hang of it is to actually attempt to ride the bike!

Instead of verbally imparting your knowledge and wisdom on students, consider the strategies below:

  • Provide short bursts of teacher-directed instruction followed by cooperative learning.

  • Assign group work with defined roles so everyone is an active participant (i.e. facilitator, note-taker, time keeper, task-master, encourager).

  • Engage in station teaching by setting up multiple stations in the room with various learning tasks

  • Ask students to “Think-Pair-Share” - think, find a partner, and share your thoughts.

  • Instead of calling on a single student, ask students to participate in a “turn and talk” - turn to your neighbor and answer the question.

  • Incorporate movement into learning - have students respond by engaging in physical activities (i.e. stand up if you think “a,” touch your toes if you think “b,” etc.)

  • Ask students to “quick jot” - write or draw three things you’ve learned so far.

Tech Reminder - Long videos of teachers explaining a concept are akin to lectures, just flashier and with editing.

Soul-Crushing Activity #2: Packets

My friend and colleague, Julie Causton, shared a story with me about a kindergarten student she was asked to support. The child said to her, exasperated, “Nobody told me all we did in kindergarten was fill out forms! I thought we were going to have fun!” Ask an adult, how much do you enjoy completing paperwork?

Packets, worksheets, reading logs, and other similar methods of documenting learning take the excitement out of what has been learned. Instead, use differentiation and choice whenever possible. Consider the following options as alternatives:

  • Create a brochure

  • Write a newspaper article

  • Make a video

  • Sketchnote - use visuals in your notes

  • Elevator pitch - share what you learned and why it’s important in 30 seconds

  • Tweet it out - explain your learning in 280 characters or less

  • Make a song or rap

Tech reminder - A worksheet posted in Google Forms or Slides is still a worksheet. Use 21st century technology to enhance instruction rather than to replicate outdated strategies.

Soul-Crushing Activity #3: PDD (Public Displays of Discipline)

Writing student names on the board, using color-coded behavior systems and clip charts, setting up a competitive system where some students receive points or rewards and others don’t, and additional strategies which publicly shame students are never good ideas. Aside from the emotional toll these practices take on children, they simply don’t work. The students whose behavior you are most looking to change are likely the ones who are consistently “clipped down,” have their names written on the board, or receive “red cards.”

Rather than shaming students into behaving, try these strategies:

  • Teach the expected/desired behavior - don't assume students know what you want them to do or how you expect them to behave.

  • Think about everything you can control before you try to control the child.

  • View children with challenging behaviors from an assets-based perspective - determine what these students are good at and capitalize on those strengths.

  • Analyze classroom management strategies and adjust - having clear systems, procedures, and routines can prevent issues from occurring.

  • Develop positive relationships - this is huge!

  • Spend time with students who are having challenging behaviors without placing demands/corrections on them to build rapport.

  • Try a tier one whole classroom positive approach where students work together to earn rewards.

If you are a teacher who has engaged in one of the “soul crushing activities” aforementioned, do not fear! We are all guilty. Yet, wouldn’t now be the perfect time to have a little more fun? Commit to trying one alternative strategy to the soul-crushers discussed. You might just find that when your students feel more excited and joyful about learning, you will too!