5 Ways to Assess Joy

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There’s been a lot of talk about teaching and learning with vision in my world over the last few years, and the importance of inspiring joyful learning has been a part of each of these conversations. We want students and teachers alike to fall in love with learning. At times, these priorities seem to be at odds with those who seek to comply with mandates.

Love isn’t always easy, and yet, it seems to blossom even in the most difficult of circumstances. One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last four years is that persevering through the rough stuff changes us for the better–if we choose this path. Our relationships with others

Our kids are counting on us to accept responsibility for that reality, regardless of the chaos that reigns outside of their classroom doors.
change as well. Often, struggle brings us closer to ourselves and to one another. We can grow tight through the fight.

I’ve also learned that while it is a complex task, we must learn to assess joy.

I spent much of the first year of Common Core implementation coaching in classrooms. I remember being concerned about the rigor of the standards, and much of our planning time was spent in anticipation of where kids might struggle and how. The teachers that I worked with will tell you that kids of varied ability and interest levels engaged in these experiences deeply. They’ll also tell you that we collected a lot of evidence along the way, and much of it revealed increased levels of confidence and joy, despite rigor.

This was surprising to all of us, quite honestly. We worried the Common Core would kill these kids. After all, everyone was saying it would. Right? Not so. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are many ways to seek alignment. Inspiring joyful learning with the Common Core or any set of standards isn’t merely possible, it’s a choice we must make. Our kids are counting on us to accept responsibility for that reality, regardless of the chaos that reigns outside of their classroom doors.

I’d like to say that achieving success was as easy as lifting and dropping ten ton standards and a prefabricated curricula on the kids that I coached that year, but this wasn’t the case. All of us thought long and hard about where learners might struggle, and we designed lessons and assessment approaches accordingly. We also committed to creating joy; we tried to measure it with intention, and we brought our findings back to the table in order to learn from one another.

In my experience, learning to assess joy made all of the difference.

Here are 5 quick ways to assess joy in your own classroom:

1. Reflection logs provide a place for learners to think and write at length about what joyful learning feels like for them. Purposeful prompts can help teachers uncover important discoveries that can guide instruction and especially, feedback and intervention. Student reflection taught me that joyful learning often emerges from challenging experiences. Learners told me that they want to be pushed. They take pride in every victory. When they aren’t given the opportunity to struggle a bit, they become passive. This has little to do with joy. So does untimely evaluation. When we evaluate first attempts and slap grades on everything, joy is lost.

2. Scales enable learners to check in with themselves throughout instruction. They take little time to create, distribute, and use. Mine looks much like the pain scale patients use in hospitals, and when I ask kids to tell me where joyful learning exists on this scale, they never mention level 1. In fact, the first time I used the scale with learners, they told me that joyful learning happens between a level 3 and a level 6. Learning within these realms is often just hard enough to let them know they’re gaining something. It isn’t so hard that they’re frightened, grimacing, or ready to collapse under the strain, though.

3. A classroom barometer can help you forecast joy quickly and efficiently. Simply create a large barometer that all learners can access and interact with. Provide all students sticky notes, ask them to reflect on their individual levels of joyful learning during a session. Then, invite them to plot these levels on your classroom barometer. A quick glance will give you an initial read of room, but mine into that data a bit by examining the notes. What trends do you notice? How can they inform your work as a teacher? What do they teach you about joyful learning?

4. Interviewing students about joyful learning experiences can teach us much. Folding purposeful questions into your conferences and actively listening to the responses learners provide is powerful. Kids reveal different things about themselves when they are able to speak with us one on one rather than writing their responses on paper or having to share them in front of others.

5. Shoot this data, and then zoom in. Rather than disrupting learning and asking kids to reflect on joy, pick up your cell phone and go on the hunt for evidence yourself. Look for joyful learning in your classroom. Notice it when it happens. Take photos. Share them with your students. Ask them to tell the story behind the experiences you capture. Establish creative habits of documentation. You’ll learn things that you didn’t anticipate.

These are just a few ideas to inspire you. I’m wondering how you teach and assess joy with intention. Please leave a comment so that others can learn from you!

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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