Lessons Should Not Be Fun

Should lessons be entertaining?

I’m reading Patrick Kelley’s book Teaching Smarter: An Unconventional Guide to Boosting Student Success and I’ve hit a chapter that has sent the mud flying and I’ve come to a bit of a stop.

Kelley points to a common theme that I’ve heard debated in many a staffroom and it relates to whether our lessons should be fun.

It seems a no-brainer to me that they should be packed with the stuff but Kelley isn’t so sure. He lists what he calls some “common student expectations and attitudes” that tug at our emotions and “derail the proper planning of constructive lessons”.

Gulp, we’d better take a look. He says that students think:

  • A teacher should be a great entertainer.
  • A teacher should be lively.
  • A teacher should make learning hands-on.
  • A teacher should be funny.

I personally agree with every statement here. Students are right, teachers need to put on a show, they need to be energetic, lessons have to be practical and you do need to make them giggle.

Others disagree and they are normally the stuffy as hell teachers who have such a tight grip of their class that students can’t breathe.

Kelley argues that making lessons entertaining and pandering to their preferences is far less important than improving student skills or increasing academic development. But Patrick, you can do both.

Kelley says that teachers often feel a pressure to entertain and resort to lessons with bells and whistles in an effort to accommodate children who are bored. I don’t think this is true either.

Some of the most motivated students I know are fired up for learning because they are having fun and appreciate the efforts their teacher is making in order to liven up otherwise dry content. If students are bored then a rocket or two is probably needed to get their attention.

Kelley disagrees. He says,

For example, a student who makes an elaborate volcano with a remote control has a lot of fun and makes an impressive product, but doesn’t learn much about geology.

Perhaps but the act of doing makes this memorable and you need to have both the practical and the academic. Building the volcano in the first place is going to spew further interest. It’s what good teachers do.

He says that students pay the price when it comes to sitting exams and tests because they lack the necessary knowledge and understanding to actually answer the questions. He suggests we tell students straight and “Explain that producing fun products often doesn’t result in learning.”

Kelley is basically saying we have to play the system and teach to the tests.

I think you know where I am going with this. Kelley is wrong. Prioritise fun and the learning will come. Besides, I know Kelley doesn’t believe fun gets in the way because throughout his book he refers to the importance of having fun and sharing your humour.

Learning has to be ‘fun’ and memorable and if one of my lessons wasn’t then I’d feel like I had failed. Lessons without entertainment and teacher energy are often flat, 2D and airless. It can also make students resent the subject you are teaching.

Fun oxygenates a lesson and breathes life into content. It makes children remember, it inspires and it gives them the insights they need. If you include fun in your lessons then this isn’t avoiding commitment and hard work. It’s making the difference.

Our prime objective as teachers is to focus on eudaimonia – pupil happiness and welfare comes through having fun lessons.

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