Scott McCloud has posted some provoking ideas relating to gaming, student engagement, the degree to which teachers strive to make their lessons engaging, and the degree to which we should strive to make school “fun.” He writes:

Too often we educators (both K-12 and higher ed) say that ‘We’ve put together a good lesson, now it’s the students’ responsibility to meet us halfway.’ But Godin’s quote puts that belief to the test because it doesn’t hold up very well in the real world. In our own lives we don’t waste our valuable and limited attention span on stuff that doesn’t interest or engage us. To say that kids should because it’s in their best interests is disingenuous and morally dishonest. We have to make the case. Otherwise we deserve the consequences. Alfie Kohn has a wonderful quote in The Schools Our Children Deserve: “Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected at the time? (p. 1)”

This line of thinking makes me reconsider my post from last week, “Assess schools on a happiness and engagement index?” It also reminds me of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which I continue to read. (I’ll hopefully finish it this week.) Csikszentmihalyi describes the “flow experience” as hinging upon increasing levels of complexity, which also seems to be a common denominator in most console and computer games today. The theme of embracing complexity in education was part of my presentation last April, “Open the Door – Conversation, Complexity, and Messy Assessment.” I need to revisit those ideas again.

Perhaps one of the basic problems with our educational system today is that it is not providing enough complex tasks to students which they find challenging and worth their passionate best efforts. I share Scott’s concern (in his comment to his own post) about:

the worksheet teachers and/or the teachers that are just ‘doing the time.’

In previous posts (“Yes we need supportive families, but we need school reform too” and “Scheduling a key to needed school reforms”) I’ve referred to these as “dead wood” teachers. That is a harsh term, but I think we all know some teachers who are just going through the motions and really aren’t passionate at all about their profession and the daily opportunity they have to positively impact the lives of young people. School reform agendas can’t focus solely on issues of assessment and curriculum. We also need to enable administrators to hire and fire teachers who are or are not cultivating the sort of learning environment in which students can thrive. I know language like that probably makes the blood of pro-Union folks run cold, but so be it. We desperately need more PASSIONATE teachers, and we need to broadly encourage passionate, caring teaching that goes far beyond a cold and calculated approach to transmission-based education based on “the standards” and “the test.”

I need to read more about gaming as well to think more clearly about how its lessons of “engagement” can be applied to educational contexts. Bernie Dodge’s ideas at MacWorld 2 weeks ago were on target with his “equation for learning power” (Power = Attention x Depth x Efficiency.) I hope to read “Everything Bad is Good for You” by Steven Johnson as well as David Williamson Shaffer’s book book “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” in upcoming months. I just learned about the latter book last week.

School can’t become a pure video game, but it certainly should become more engaging than it reportedly is for LARGE numbers of K-12 public education students in the U.S. today. I’m not sure what the measurement index of a “successful” school should be, but I am convinced it needs to go beyond the narrow measures of summative test performance which continue to consume many of our policymakers’, administrators’, and school board members’ minds today.

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One Response to Engagement, school fun, and passionless teachers

  1. Well, referring to ‘dead wood’ teachers, I think the quote I use on the opening of my blog fits…

    “There is a big difference between teaching thirty years and teaching one year thirty times.”

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