All Work and No Play Makes Jac a Dull Instructor

Generally, I’ve always “liked” school. I never really minded going to class in high school. Sure, tests were hard, and studying for them was too stressful for my health, but I never truly hated the concepts of tests and grades and homework. My brother, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He’s smart, but he dislikes school and everything associated with it. He’s trudging through his undergraduate degree longing for the moment he can be done forever. Over the years, I have noticed that  he is definitely more of a learn-by-doing type of learner; lecture doesn’t do so much for him.  He has a graphic design type of side-business that seems to be doing quite well, and all he knows, he either taught himself or learned through online community.

So reading these articles dealing with reaching those who are “digital learners,” who learn by play and community, really reinforced the idea that communal learning is something I truly would like to incorporate into my classroom in any way that I can. Robert Talbert’s “Four Things Lecture is Good For” reminded me that lectures, though some are inspiring and memorable, are actually not that inspiring and memorable. How many lectures do I remember from high school? From undergrad? Few. In fact, as Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s Chapter “Arc-of-Life Learning” suggests, play and imagination combined for a more emphatic experience. He states that these concepts are “the very heart of arc-of-life learning” (18). The classes I remember from high school tend to be the days of active learning, of play. Any class’s favorite days were the review game days where we split up into competitive groups determined to beat each other by proving what we remembered, the lab days where we got to heat a solution and watch it turn a deep magenta pink. But the question that will probably make its way into every one of my posts now appears: how do I do this in my own classroom? In a writing class?

Thomas and Seely Brown’s chapter differed from my regular type of article reading mainly in content because it dealt so much with games and science. I don’t play games. I’ve never played games. I don’t understand them. But the article was actually really interesting, especially the segment on the little boy Sam, who knows more about technology and codes at the age of 9 than I could ever hope to learn over the course of the rest of my life. Sam grew as a learner, a teacher, and a professional, if you will, because of the collaborative learning community in which he took part (23).

This reminded me of the concept of peer review. I supposed I could even refer to it as a type of pedagogy. And it’s one that I have scheduled a lot of into my semester. Why? Because I believe that it teaches my students about audience. They’re writing for more people than just the instructor. It helps their writing become more clear. If their peer can’t understand what they’re saying, the likelihood of my understanding it goes way down. It helps them learn in a hands on way. Spotting problems in another person’s project is easier than spotting the problems in their own. As they practice finding issues in writing, I hope recognizing problems in the writing they produce becomes easier. But I’m always on the look out for more group work ideas and interactive ways of teaching concepts. I truly think my students have more fun when they have a sort of game or group work to take up class time. I think they learn more, too. But that’s the hard part, I think–coming up with ideas.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to All Work and No Play Makes Jac a Dull Instructor

  1. Rudi

    Reading your post was truly insightful. I appreciate the way that you have integrated peer learning in your classroom. It is true, it is sometimes easier to spot problems in work that belongs to your peers than your own. I myself sometimes suffer with this and I can see the value in critiquing my peer’s work. If you come up with more group work ideas and teaching concepts, please share with us so that we can learn from you too! In addition to that, also feel free to ask us for some ideas as well if you find yourself searching for some creativity or inspiration.

  2. Bethany Wolters

    I have observed the same phenomenon of students struggling through classes who I know are bright, hard-working and going to thrive in their career when it no longer requires them to sit through lectures. I have seen this in my younger brother, who struggles through classes (and passes) but excels in his construction job, internship this summer and has created a (I think) very impressive social media brand about teaching people how to fish (people besides my mom watch and participate in what he’s doing). The classes that he likes and performs well in are the ones that he see are immediately applicable to what he wants to do and the ones that are practicing real-life skills.
    I saw an example of this type of real-life writing assignemnt last year. Students in this class were assigned to write a grant proposal, following all of the grant formatting and content requirements and they write it as if they were representing a real farmer in our local area. The farmer came into the class and talked with the student about their farm, their problem and what they wanted to try with the grant funding. The students were guided through the process of reading scientific literature and how to write scientifically. I observed one of the days when a peer-review happened. What made that peer-review work well is that the review was structure to guide students to the problems in their own papers, by reading other submissions.
    I think that creating more authentic writing assignments and assessments in our classes will motivate students who are just here to get ready for their jobs and better prepare all students. And it seemed more meaningful for both the teacher and students to put time and effort into this project, knowing that the benefit would be more than just a grade.

  3. J. Drapeau

    You have a really good point. More applicable, “real-life” assignments would engage the students more, especially at a research institution like Virginia Tech. Thanks for your example!

  4. Amy Hermundstad

    Great post! I love your example of including peer review into your classroom. In addition to teaching students about concepts such as audience and helping those reviewing the papers identify issues in writing, it is a great way to get feedback to students. I don’t know how many students you have in your class, but I would imagine that it can be difficult to get feedback to all of your students (it would be for me!). So I think incorporating peer feedback can lead to a variety of benefits for students. I will be interested to hear about your experiences throughout the semester.

  5. Anurag

    I never thought of peer-review as a means to learn in a classroom setting! Thanks for your post. You literally set my “mind on fire” 😉

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