Monday, September 2, 2013

The Happiness Component to Learning

Today's blog isn't one about how to facilitate learning so all students will learn in a way that suits them and is appropriately differentiated.  We'll leave that for another day.  Besides, for anyone bothering to read a teaching blog about inquiry, there are resources up the ying yang at your fingertips.

Today's blog is simply about remembering to keep it fun.   It's the beginning of the year for most of us, and that means right now we have the opportunity to set the tone for a community of learners that we'll be a part of for the next nine or ten months.

Pretty much everybody learns best when they are having fun.  No, we're not paid to be entertainers, and, no, every lesson doesn't need to be a barrel of laughs, but the day can be planned in such a way that levity, joy and pleasure are an important component of it.  This includes your delivery and facilitation of lessons as well as all the moments in the day where we have the opportunity to help students feel positive and happy to be at school.

In The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, he writes:

"We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.  For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster.  Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent.  Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers.  It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive."

Isn't it great news that we can improve student assessment simply by helping them get in a resourceful, happy state?  I love this research!  What are some ways in which to do this that take place in the day-to-day workings of a classroom?  Here's a few ideas just to get you started, but I'm sure you can come up with a bucket load of your own.

  • Compliment your students.  When you notice them doing something kind or on-task or things that are part of the Learner Profile or Attitudes, be sure to take a few seconds to honor them publicly.
  • Pull students aside privately on a regular basis for quick one-on-one pep talks where you let them know how much potential you think they have, and how impressed you are with particular aspects of their performance or abilities or personalities.  
  • Send individual emails to students with short but sweet comments such as, "I really appreciated how willing you were to help out your group during collaborative problem solving today.  Way to go!"  It only takes a minute of your time, but the delight and ensuing motivation of such comments (not to mention the parent appreciation) long outweigh the "trouble" it takes to write a few a day.
  • Tell a joke a day (or five or six).
  • Share inspirational quotes.  Sometimes I use quotes (with deliberate mistakes) for my DOL (Daily Oral Language) practice so students can get a dose of inspiration while figuring out the structure and use of language.
  • Allow for laughable moments.  If someone says or does something funny, join in.  Show them you like to have fun too.  
  • Put up a daily cartoon for students to read when they come in to class.
  • Tell funny stories about yourself when you were their age.  Students always love to hear about their teachers' follies and mistakes!
  • Inquiry based learning encourages game playing.  Make sure your learning areas are full of games that are fun and help students meet your set objectives.
  • Have fun with your colleagues. That joy will be translated to your students.

When push comes to shove, we all have to go to school five days a week.  So do our students.  Why don't we all decide to have fun doing it?

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