Leaguing Laughter to Learning: The Journey to a Joyful Classroom

Image for representational purpose only
Image for representational purpose onlyConor Ashleigh/ Flickr [Creative Commons]

An Ideal classroom for me as a Teacher Educator is an activity space (Room or outside) filled with lively, enthusiastic learners, who are ready to use their head, heart and hand at a new task and to interact positively with the teachers and others.

This ideal picture of a classroom includes everything that facilitates learning i.e., books, art supplies learning material, hands-on mathematics, science, social science and language kits to extend children’s natural curiosity. But unfortunately, this ideal picture is very blurry. It is rather very dingy. 

Smiling and laughter matter because both breed joy. There is a school climate guru, Peter DeWitt, who once tweeted, “in essence, that school climate isn’t another thing on our plates – it is the plate – the foundation that supports all we do.”

Joy is a part of a healthy climate and in places where we spend huge chunks of time, like school, healthy climates are critical to the success of students and teachers alike.

A joyful classroom is an active, bright and jovial place. But what is joy? If we go into the dictionary meaning of joy, it means a feeling of great pleasure and delight or “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying.”

Joy captures the excitement of real learning: curiosity, passion, connotation, association, determination, purpose, pleasure, self-esteem, sharing, etc. Joyful learning speaks to both, the learning process i.e., a focus on techniques that can be described as joyful as well as effective, and to an outcome that is happiness.

Joyful learning is pleasing, enabling, and playful learning of meaningful content in a loving and sympathetic/empathetic environment.

As facilitators, one always wants to create joy in the classroom as it simplifies learning and certainly faster learning.

The challenge is, first, how does one create such joyful learning in the classroom? Second, how does one instigate a spark of enthusiasm among students? Third, how do we bring fun and joy to the classroom? Before getting answers to all these probes we need to understand the needs of a child.

With all other physical needs, Children come into the world with certain basic emotional needs. They need to feel loved and need positive self-esteem.

It is the job of a parent, and a teacher to be well aware of these needs and communicate with the child in a way that will support his/her positive growth.

Children have a strong need for love and affection that begins at birth and continues their whole life. A teacher should bring love and affection to the classroom with all teaching tools and methodologies. Spending time with your child communicates the care of a teacher or parent.

To everybody, Time is equal to Attention which is equal to Love, this formula works for children as well. Looking up when s/he calls, making eye contact when s/he speaks, and responding to her latest creation or question with interest, show that s/he is important.

Children need to know that parents or a teacher accept their feelings, and their mistakes and love them unreservedly. Children feel respected and valued when one acknowledges their opinions, feelings, and desires.

Compliments communicate an appreciation of the child’s efforts, and that the child is valued. The teacher’s support calms a child.

Children need positive self-esteem. It is in Teacher’s eyes, words, actions, and smiles that the child forms an image of him/herself. Children desperately want to feel that they are valuable.

Giving your child a good feeling about him/herself, by protecting his/her self-esteem is one of your greatest challenges as a teacher so the teacher has to choose their words and actions carefully.

A teacher and parent must avoid blame or criticism because it will devalue your child’s self-image. Second: Contrasts, Comparisons, and Associations as the child will feel inadequate which will lower the child’s self-esteem.

Third Negative adjectives, If you use words such as sloppy, bad, or lazy your child will feel s/he is not valuable and bring more harm and undesirable changes in the child. Fourth Negative phrases because these phrases will cause a child to feel flawed.

Last but not least, yelling at your child or expressing your anger physically and publically, also causes a child to feel devalued and unloved.

The child is recognized as a natural learner, and knowledge as the outcome of his/her own activity. There are psychological reasons advocating that joyful learning should be given a chance.

It has been proven that Dopamine is released when we experience joy; it acts as an intrinsic reward system. Some Neuroscientists refer to dopamine as a “save button” because when it is released, it provokes the development of long-term memory. When wit is interpolated in the Teaching-Learning Process, students are more likely to retain what they’ve learned and are likely to be less stressed and more well-informed to be stronger. Fun in the classroom develops a sense of community and lowers effective filters of students, creating them more inclined to new ideas, taking risks, and learning.

As a teacher and a facilitator, it is necessary to keep in mind that what happens inside schools has a deep and lasting effect on the mindsets that children develop toward enduring learning. 

Learning gives us pleasure. If we want students to be charged with enthusiasm, if we want them to see school and learning as joyful, we need to rethink how and what we teach.

Let them enjoy learning as well as they enjoy games. Find ways to increase laughter in the classroom.

Ask your students to create songs and rhythm when learning something new and they will remember much longer and have an easier time retrieving the information for a test.

Children are free to follow their interests outside of school and they do so with enthusiasm and passion. But there is no ownership of the child’s learning during school hours. Joy in learning usually requires some ownership on the part of the learner.

For Example, while one student is studying the solar system, a second is researching the workings of the Panchayats in India, and a third is exploring the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

While two students work together to investigate the history of Buddhism, another is engrossed in surveying other teachers on their opinions of video games. This autonomy of learning can teach students that school can be a place that nurtures curiosity, stimulates them to ask questions, and comforts them in finding joy in learning.

Let children create things. The list of what students can create across the curriculum is virtually limitless: newspapers and magazines, brochures, stories, picture books, posters, PowerPoint presentations, interviews, oral histories, models, diagrams, blueprints, floor plans, plays and role-plays, mock trials, photographs, paintings, songs, surveys, graphs and documentary videos.

Our schools and classrooms should be brimming with the wonderful, original work of students. School spaces that are barren of student work propagate a sterile and joyless environment.

The walls of classrooms should speak to people; these walls should say exactly what goes on in that space throughout the school day.

There should be a systemic change towards a model of holistic learning that is experiential and allied to real-life situations. The teacher should find situations that help students incorporate what they learned into their everyday lives.

Students need a break from being confined inside a classroom all day.

Fresh air, trees, and a sunny day can do wonders for the human soul. Meeting, mingling and merging with nature brings a unique joy.

All students enjoy a good story so allow the student to read different books beyond your texts simply for the sake of student enjoyment!

We need to help students understand the value of assessment. As a teacher, we should encourage students regularly to do self-assessments. This will give them some real power over the process.

Our schools see failure as a bad thing. We also need to rethink “failure.” Portraying failure as a bad thing teaches a child to avoid risk-taking and bold ideas.

Schools need to invent means for students, teachers, and administrators to take a break from the emotional, stressed, and sombre school day and have some fun together. Cultural and Sporting events, outdoor field activities together and picnics can help everyone to know each other well by creating a good school environment.

One can use the ABLE (Art, Behavior, Language and Emotion) scale to understand the child in day-to-day life. Rate your child on a scale of one to five where one is the least and five  is the highest, especially in the use and interest of any form of art, about his/her behaviour, use of dignified or foul words (language), then try to recognize how your child’s emotions move, see if s/he is happy, moody, disinterested, sad, excited, etc. this scale can help us understand the child.

According to John Dewey, ‘Teaching is hard’ but teachers must strive in whatever ways they can to own their teaching so that whenever they enter class, they should take it as an ideal opportunity to disseminate and to experience the joy in school.

As I advocate Love is the biggest and greatest Pedagogy and learning with love never exhausts the heart, so whatever your teaching-learning environment demands, fulfill it with love because there is no bigger joy than giving and getting love. 

The author is senior Academic Officer at J&K SCERT

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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