6 Ways Teachers Kill the Joy of Learning

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Teachers work hard. They are honorable people, who are part of a unique fraternity. Teachers change young lives. The best ones inspire students to become self-evaluative, independent lifelong learners. Unfortunately, far too many teachers cling to ineffective strategies, and they unwittingly kill the joy of learning.

Why is this? Killing the joy of learning is certainly not a conscious effort. The short and simple answer to the why question is because most educators learn to teach in outdated traditional and uninspiring ways. So, to inspire a joy of learning in students, avoid the following.

6 Ways to Kill the Joy of Learning

1-Talk too much

Preservice teachers learn to talk. Traditional classes begin with lecture (educators call this direct instruction). Nothing kills the joy of learning more than telling students what they should know. Kids are naturally curious. They want to discover learning. Keeping direct instruction to five or fewer minutes and encouraging inquiry learning puts students at the center of the class. So, talk less and move to the side. The joy of learning begins here.

2-Teach with worksheets and homework

worksheet litmus test
Adapted from Role Reversal by Sean Junkins

Two simple, go-to strategies that teachers learn during preservice are the worksheet and homework. Teachers lecture about a skill or concept, then hand out prefabricated worksheets that attempt to mimic what was taught during direct instruction. Often, the worksheet becomes part of nightly homework. The typical worksheet includes fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple choice sections. Students who play the school game well are typically good at worksheets. For students whose minds wander or students with outside issues that interfere with learning (ADHD for example), worksheets kill the joy of learning. Sadly, most of these students suffer from poor grades, too (see number 6). Kids hate homework and most detest worksheets. Piling these on serves no purpose, apart from killing the joy of learning.

3-Use rules and consequences

I used to be a “My-way-or-the-highway” teacher. Kids hated me. Do’s and Don’ts were posted everywhere, and when students broke my ridiculous rules (talked, moved from seats, chewed gum, etc.), consequences came swiftly. When I learned to give up control and discard all of the ridiculous rules and consequences, everything changed in my classroom. Unlike some of my younger colleagues, I wasn’t funny or overly creative; students didn’t suddenly love me, but they didn’t hate me either. And they grew to love my student-centered classroom. Best of all, when I embraced collaboration and a little chaos, students discovered the joy of learning.

4-Give students one way to learn

The problem with worksheets, workbooks, and multiple choice tests is that they put all children in the same box, assuming they can climb the same ladder to escape. The easiest way to kill the joy of learning is to inspire curiosity in a subject, only to eviscerate that curiosity with a rote memory activity. There are many ways to engage students, and the digital world creates multiple paths to learning (more on this in number 5.)

5-Ignore mobile learning and social media

There is little denial that we are teaching iStudents, who want to use mobile devices and social media. It’s time to stop telling our kids to put their devices in their lockers or, worse, to leave them at home. Amazing mobile technology puts billions of teachers in the palms of students’ hands, so we must learn to become iTeachers, or continue to risk killing the joy of learning. For more on mobile learning strategies, visit our mobile learning archive.

6-Use traditional grades

Arguably the easiest way to kill the joy of learning is to punish students with numbers, percentages, and letter grades. Like the worksheet and homework, traditional grades are a crutch that educators have been using for centuries. It’s the way we’ve always done it, but we now have the power and the insight to stop. When learning becomes a conversation, and students are redirected to prior learning and given a chance to resubmit activities to continue the conversation, the result is mastery learning. Rather than place subjective numbers or letters on our students’ work, teachers need to use a feedback model, like SE2R, to create amazing conversations about learning (see video below). This approach alone can revolutionize your classroom and instill a joy of learning in your students.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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