Over my many years in education I have had the pleasure to work with some very special teachers. These teachers had two qualities that can’t really be taught: one was an intrinsic desire to seek out ‘best practice’ and the other quality was the ability to connect with children so they were fully engaged with their learning. I could go on but the point of this entry is to unpack the second quality a little more and drill down to an essential point.
The ability of a teacher to create an ‘on task’ working atmosphere used to be one of the key indicators of good classroom practice. But, as thinking and experienced educators know, ‘on task’ behaviour does not necessarily mean that the students are enjoying or getting any educational
benefit out of their school work! They are just on
task. A study in Australia called the Fair Go Project concluded that when
students are strongly engaged they are successfully involved in tasks of high
intellectual quality and have passionate or at least positive feelings about
these tasks. No surprise here! Rather than just being ‘on task’ with teachers’
wishes and directions, students need to actually be ‘in task’. That is, to have
some substantive engagement.
Some years ago I was talking with a teaching colleague who I valued enormously for his understanding of education and his desire to seek out ‘best practice’. He talked about an article he had read where someone was describing substantive engagement in children’s learning as ‘hard fun’. That was a real ‘a ha’ moment for me. That was so brilliantly summing up what we all know from our own learning experiences. Mostly the thing that drives us to learn is when we are intrinsically drawn to it. Around the same time one of our students came up with the phrase ‘edutainment’. This boy called Theo said the best learning is based on a series of events sneakily intertwined with education. He said “schools need to be a place of education, entertainment, friendship and memories.”
I believe Theo has got it in one. This is not a woolly or flakey approach. There has to be rigour! The best education is ‘hard fun’---we all learn better when there is a bit of tension and stretch combined with enjoyment. This fits so well with the important concept of ‘learner agency’ where the aim is support children incrementally to take more control over their learning. “ When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.” ( Core Education: http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends/ten-trends-2014/learning-agency )
The concept of ‘learner agency’ is huge, complex and powerful in the learning process. Best practice here transforms children’s learning and is central to this idea of ‘hard fun’ but more on this another time.