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Bad Idea for Dealing with the Behaviour Crisis #1: Make Lessons More Fun

April 23, 2007

This is the favourite suggestion of educationalists, bureaucrats and other commentators that wouldn’t dare set foot in a classroom. The argument here is that if you make sure your class are being entertained then they won’t have any incentive to tell you to “go suck your mother”. All we need to do is have more games, group work, discussions, computers, interactive whiteboards and entertaining teachers and Jordan and Chantel will sit enthralled.

The obvious flaw with this argument is that discipline has gone out of the window at a time when teachers have come under more and more pressure to make their lessons fun. If we look at countries with better discipline than the UK (i.e. everywhere but a few bits of the US) we don’t see more interesting lessons. Similarly, if we go back a few decades to a time where students would be less likely to tell their teachers to perform sexual acts on their mothers we see no indication that lessons were any more fun, quite the opposite. Besides which, the biggest obstacle to lessons being enjoyable is student behaviour, and you can only experiment successfully with more enjoyable ways of learning if you have a class that are able to follow instructions and are willing to work.

Finally, I present to you the evidence from my local multiplex. Teenagers in the cinema audience have plenty of entertainment right in front of them. Yet somehow they still manage to chat, throw popcorn, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. If the latest Hollywood blockbuster can’t entertain them into good behaviour, what chance does any teacher have?

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5 comments

  1. Learning from play? In the 17th Century?

    JOHN AMOS COMENIUS

    (Jan Amos Komensky) was born in 1592 in Nivnice, Moravia, in the area that is now the Czech Republic. Known today as the “Father of Modern Education,” he pioneered modern educational methods. A contemporary of Galileo, Descartes, Rembrandt, and Milton, Comenius contributed greatly to the Enlightenment. Throughout his life he tried to improve the ways students were taught. His first success was a beginning Latin textbook, Janua Linguarum Reserata (“The Gate of Languages Unlocked”), published in 1631. He produced the first children’s picture book, Orbis Pictus, published in 1658. Both these books became best sellers, translated into every major European language and used by beginning learners for over a hundred years.

    FACTS ABOUT COMENIUS:

    • Comenius wrote 154 books in his lifetime. Many were banned and burned by the Roman Catholic Church.
    • Comenius was asked to be the first President of Harvard College — and declined.
    • Comenius was the first to use pictures in a textbook.
    • Comenius was the first to promote continuing education — and the first to advocate equal education for all, including women and the poor.

    Comenius’s most important work was written between 1628 and 1632, first in Czech and then in Latin: the Didactica Magna, usually called in English The Great Didactic. Perhaps a more meaningful translation would be The Whole Art of Teaching. It explored how people learn and how they should be taught from infancy through the university and beyond. Published in 1649, it was a radical work for its time. In an age when people believed that human beings were born naturally evil and that goodness and knowledge had to be beaten into them, Comenius believed that they were born with a natural craving for knowledge and goodness, and that schools beat it out of them.

    Quotes from John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, written 1628-32; published 1649; translated by M.W. Keatinge 1896.

    1. Education for everyone, not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike. Boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school.
    Education is indeed necessary for all, and this is evident if we consider the different degrees of ability. No one doubts that those who are stupid need instruction, that they may shake off their natural dullness. But in reality those who are clever need it far more, since an active mind, if not occupied with useful things, will busy itself with what is useless, curious, and pernicious.

    2. Learning is Natural
    Who is there that does not always desire to see, hear, or handle something new? To whom is it not a pleasure to go to some new place daily, to converse with someone, to narrate something, or have some fresh experience? In a word, the eyes, the ears, the sense of touch, the mind itself, are, in their search for food, ever carried beyond themselves; for to an active nature nothing is so intolerable as sloth.
    The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree.

    3. Learning by Easy Stages

    There is in the world no rock or tower of such a height that it cannot be scaled by any man (provided he lack not feet) if ladders are placed in the proper position or steps are cut in the rock, made in the right place, and furnished with railings against the danger of falling over.
    If we examine ourselves, we see that our faculties grow in such a manner that what goes before paves the way for what comes after.

    4. Lifelong Learning
    If, in each hour, a man could learn a single fragment of some branch of knowledge, a single rule of some mechanical art, a single pleasing story or proverb (the acquisition of which would require no effort), what a vast stock of learning he might lay by. Seneca is therefore right when he says: “Life is long, if we know how to use it.” It is consequently of importance that we understand the art of making the very best use of our lives.
    Aristotle compared the mind of man to a blank tablet on which nothing was written, but on which all things could be engraved. There is, however, this difference, that on the tablet the writing is limited by space, while in the case of the mind, you may continually go on writing and engraving without finding any boundary, because, as has already been shown, the mind is without limit.

    5. Play. Much can be learned in play that will afterwards be of use when the circumstances demand it.
    A tree must also transpire, and needs to be copiously refreshed by wind, rain, and frost; otherwise it easily falls into bad condition, and becomes barren. In the same way the human body needs movement, excitement, and exercise, and in daily life these must be supplied, either artificially or naturally.

    Quotes from John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, written 1628-32; published 1649; translated by M.W. Keatinge 1896.


  2. “A contemporary of Galileo, Descartes, Rembrandt, and Milton, Comenius contributed greatly to the Enlightenment.”

    The Enlightenment is pretty much the point where things started to go wrong.

    “In an age when people believed that human beings were born naturally evil and that goodness and knowledge had to be beaten into them, Comenius believed that they were born with a natural craving for knowledge and goodness, and that schools beat it out of them.”

    Comenius was so wrong it hurts. If you argue that the young know better than the previous generation, and need to avoid being corrupted by their elders, you aren’t freeing them, you are making them a prisoner of passing fancy. There can be no understanding except through the understanding our forbears have left us.


  3. “There can be no understanding except through the understanding our forbears have left us.”

    I can’t imagine that your grandparents taught you how to set up and post in this blog, Andrew.


  4. “I can’t imagine that your grandparents taught you how to set up and post in this blog, Andrew.”

    My grandparents are dead.

    The main acquired skill I’m using here is writing which strangely enough I didn’t learn by discovering it for myself while playing.


  5. You are so right – we, as teachers, have more to contend with in the classroom than most people realise. The odds are staked against us. There are so many bad role models out there, that it is quite exceptional to find a child who sees any benefit at all to good behavior, There are simply too many short term and achievable benefits to bad behavior. This is why I am launching a project for positive role models – your feedback would be much appreciated Maruwa



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