Joy + Meaning = Good Learning

May 6, 2021

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Imagine if it was all play and no work. What kind of boy would Jack be?

Image taken from Mailup Blog

The concept of work and play are two human-invented terminologies to describe tasks that are either (i) done to achieve an outcome (or should we say ‘income’?) or (ii) tasks that may end without a tangible outcome. More often than not, society is conditioned to think of one as boring and the other as fun. However, there are actually many examples of people who enjoy what they do for “work”!

We have seen athletes enjoying their training and the joy of competition, we have watched artists describing their inspiration and performing their music, and we have read of scientists discovering breakthroughs in their fields and proudly sharing their research. Their success at “work” stems from enjoying what they do, not in spite of enjoying what they do.

The same goes with learning - children will be motivated to build skills and retain knowledge better when they are engaged in the process. So how can we ensure learning is an enjoyable experience rather than an experience they have to endure? Conversely, how can we also find opportunities to make play meaningful?  

As an educator or parent, you can proactively design meaningful learning through play-based activities.  Here are some suggested steps to get you started:

1. Build rapport to establish trust

To craft any positive experience, a learner has to feel safe with you. Start by building a relationship with them to enable them to trust you as a facilitator. Once a learner feels comfortable with you, it is easier to begin engaging them in an activity.  It will also be easier to elicit information from them later. As many educators will say, “Maslows before Blooms”.

2. Anchor learning to a curriculum goal

Play traditionally has no agenda but feel free to buck tradition and set a goal!  Selecting a learning goal(s) will help you as a designer to scope down your choices for the next step and help with your planning. Rather than being overwhelmed, you can always start with a goal you are comfortable with facilitating. This step will enable you to better prepare the activities and materials for play-based learning. Furthermore, this may help you ask relevant questions and observe your learners better to support their learning.

Image taken from The Conversation

3. Provide time, space, materials - provide opportunity for play

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk” ~ Albert Einstein.  

Select a variety of materials and activities, then organise them in a spread out space for your learners to explore and enjoy.  The range of items and space you prepare will provide your learners with choices, which will enable a sense of ownership and self-directedness during learning. Of course, you can also incorporate simple competition to increase individual or group excitement, but do ensure you and your learners are okay with ‘losing’.

4. Facilitate and question

Once that is ready, your role is to ensure their safety as they interact with the materials. On top of that, question often and listen to their questions. Be a teacher and a learner at the same time. Model the curiosity you want from your learners, while also coaching them towards the knowledge connection you want them to make. Ask your learners questions to provide them opportunities to describe their thought process and showcase their understanding of their play experience.  

To begin with, you can easily refer to the curriculum for the actions you want them to showcase, for example describe, list, or label. Next, get them to discover patterns and connect current experience with prior knowledge, using verbs such as compare, modify, and contrast. Then, if there is an opportunity to encourage continuous curiosity, get your learners to try activities like predicting, evaluating, or designing.

One important tip: embrace failure. This is a tip for both the designer of the learning and the learner.  Whether it is failing to explain what they are doing, or even failing to even do anything, these are still valid learning experiences. Ask them to describe their feelings and their experience, and share on how they can try again next time. You can also ask yourself the same questions!

5. Evidence learning

If you need to do evidence learning, do so through conversations, observations, or the learner’s product. As the late Sir Ken Robinson once wrote, change the way we assess learning from “How intelligent are you?” to “How are you intelligent?”. There are many ways to make meaning and there are also as many ways to showcase one’s learning. From talking about it to producing something to prove a concept (be it writing, drawing, making) to even performing it through a dance or a skit, there are many ways a learner can show their perspective of the world. Listen or look out for these. You may miss it sometimes, but if learning has happened, your learner will never have a problem expressing how they are intelligent to you again.

Do these five steps work for you?  

Share your experiences with us in The HEART Course: Session E - Enjoy What You Do and Who You Do it With!

It’s the journey that transforms us, not the destination. What does it mean to enjoy the process of delivering education together with those who are part of it? How can we make education enjoyable and engage students in today’s world? Find out what global thought leaders are saying about this and join the discussion in The HEART Course - Session E: Enjoy What You Do and Who You Do It With.

Get started with The HEART Course here.

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Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series