Monday 15 December 2014

Fun Not Included

There has been some debate on the Twittersphere as to whether children should have fun in their lessons. My feeling on the subject has always been that fun is a happy by-product in a lesson but the prime focus must always be on learning. If the children have fun and learn nothing then what is the point of employing a professional teacher to teach them. If the children's learning is moved forwards and they have some fun then great. If the children's learning moves forward and they don't have fun - so what - our primary job is to teach them things.

One of my worries with the fun thing is that it is exhausting to maintain. It is not humanly possible to plan 'fun' lessons every day of every week. Sometimes children need to just get on with something and/or practise quietly. Planning of lessons should always start with the intended outcome. Then activities should be planned that are the most effective way to deliver these outcomes.

Also, defining fun is a tricky issue. To some children charging around the classroom in groups, writing things on posters is a fun lesson. To others, using an iPad or other device is fun. To others, working quietly on their own practising something that has been explained to them well is very enjoyable. Which of these approaches is best? Well that comes down to which one has the biggest impact on the children's learning.

The British Army is the best trained and possible most effective fighting force in the world. However, I am not sure that the new recruits going through basic training would describe it as fun. Yet they most certainly learn a lot. This was brought home to me in the recent TV series about Royal Marine training. It is tough, uncompromising and I would never describe it as fun. However, the Royal Marines are extremely highly regarded around the world for their skills.

Jackie Chan, the famous actor and martial arts expert, attended the China Drama Academy which was set up to prepare children for life in the Peking Opera. This involved lots of acrobatic skills including martial arts as well as singing and dancing. If you asked Jackie whether he had fun while studying there, I am sure that he would reply in the negative. Discipline at the school was very severe and students were regularly beaten or given other physical punishments if they made mistakes.

Footballers such as David Beckham and Eric Cantona used to stay behind after training to practise and perfect free kicks. I doubt that they would see this as fun but it was the best way for them to improve their skills.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that I am not worried about whether children I teach are having fun. Rather, I am worried about whether they are making enough progress over time. As a result, my opinion on fun is changing. Now I am not sure it matters at all.

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