On interesting lessons

I once introduced my form to a game which I referred to as the dictionary game.  It’s quite simple.  You read out a word the students don’t know from a dictionary (nadir, for example), and everyone writes a funny definition on a scrap of paper (the feeling you get when you wake up and realise your alarm hasn’t gone off, for example).  The teacher collects them in and reads them out.  The funniest definition, not the closest to the truth, wins, by class vote.  My form loved that game, but when I suggested we play ‘the dictionary game’ the first time, a number of groans arose from the room.  They didn’t know anything about it and the word ‘dictionary’ meant it was boring.  Actually in the end, the ones who gave the loudest groans enjoyed the game the most.

I tell this story because one of the things regularly discussed on Twitter is to what extent we should try and tailor lessons and learning to things students enjoy.  The story above is an example of a situation where something which students thought they wouldn’t enjoy turned out to be one of their preferred form time activities.  What people like and don’t like changes over time.  Sometimes people end up liking things just because they’re familiar with them, as in the mere exposure effect.  Maybe even a teacher could plan a lesson around Pokemon or Minecraft or bottle flipping or football or Call of Duty, and the students wouldn’t even enjoy it.  The somewhat transient nature of students’ preferences  could present problems when planning SOWs.

The other thing to bear in mind is that you can make one thing boring or interesting depending on how you present it.  Any English teacher will know that if you show students Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, they’ll be pretty into it.  If you show them Blackton’s 1908 version, less so.  Same play, different level of interest.  This is perhaps more pertinent when considering direct instruction.  Direct instruction can be deadly dull, I’m sure.  The cartoon Victorian teacher, droning on at the front in a monotone whilst his students snooze, is an easy image to conjure up.  But surely if you don’t speak in a monotone, ask a few questions, get students up the front to demonstrate things, illustrate what you’re saying with stuff on the whiteboard, maybe have a well-thought-out powerpoint, you can have a pretty good go at making your subject interesting for all your students.

Lastly, we can’t all be interested in everything.  Your subject won’t be the favourite subject of every child in the classroom.  Similarly, not every aspect of your subject will be of equal interest to everyone.  Some students love Shakespeare; some students love grammar; some students love persuasive writing.  Maybe there should also be a level of acceptance that sometimes, some students will not be totally psyched about what they’re doing.

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