Perhaps more than ever, schools face a multitude of challenges in meeting the needs of the students they serve. The pandemic introduced a new set of protocols for classrooms to implement, along with the myriad of responsibilities already in place for classroom teachers. Considering these many expectations, it is easy for teachers to find themselves pouring all of their energies into managing their students and learning environments. In an effort to control variables, attention can become hyper focused on to-do lists, as well as tracking behaviors, shortcomings, and predetermined outcomes. We can lose sight of the individual student, and instead focus on collective performance and outcomes. In doing so, we slowly rob our students of ownership of their learning, self-discovery, and expression, thereby stunting the natural joy in learning. And, it isn’t only the student who experiences diminished joy in this environment, so does the teacher. The more external control and lack of autonomy students feel exerted upon them, the more disengagement, dependency, apathy, and lack of motivation they feel. A perfect storm for behavioral issues to appear.
A solution to this exists. A simple, natural, human-friendly solution; make students partners in their learning journey, and infuse natural elements of play and exploration in learning experiences. Turn over some of that control and responsibility to the learner, it is their journey after all. Allow them to devise ways to connect play, exploration, and experimentation to learning targets. Consider this quote by Susanne Leslie, “Play is not more important than science, literacy, physics, or math - it IS science, literacy, physics, and math. It is the FOUNDATION for learning.”
How do you incorporate play into your plans? What kinds of play and discovery opportunities are you opening for your students?
This post is part of a series about joyful learning. Friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Abby French wrote this post based on a conference session we presented together for Washington State ASCD and New Jersey ASCD Whole Child Institutes.