I’d rather be playing than working

I really enjoyed the GEDI F18 Week 4 prompts on Mindful Learning. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk was particularly moving, inspirational, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. However, I was also saddened by the reminder that the United States’ educational system has many avoidable deficiencies. I just don’t understand why American politicians and some educators continue to promote standardized testing and uniformity in teaching despite there being strong evidence that these methods do not promote mindful learning or a culture of learning.

I found Ellen J. Langer’s article on Mindful Learning (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 2000, 220-223), both informative and relatable to my own experiences with coaching. Langer explains that subjects respond more mindfully to activities that are described as play rather than work (Myth 3). I have also found this to be true when I coach soccer. In fact, I often use this strategy to encourage my players during practices. For example, when working on passing patterns (e.g., player 1 passes to player 2, who passes to 3, who passes to 4), if I describe the activity as a drill, most players will mindlessly go through the passing motions unconcerned with the quality or speed of their passes. However, if I describe the activity as a competition between groups, the players are immediately more attentive; they listen to the instructions, are concerned about the quality of their passes, move the ball more quickly, and are frustrated when their passes are inaccurate. All in all, the players are more focused and determined when they think they are in competition with each other, which translates into them working harder to improve their performance. Thus, the change in the players’ learning experiences is unrelated to the drill itself, but to how the drill is presented to them.

Thinking about what motivates my players also brings me back to our in-class discussion on gamification. I am reminded that in order to promote student learning, every lesson does not need to be presented as a fun game. Rather, the material just needs to be presented in a way that gives the lessons meaning and encourages the students to want to learn. I am looking forward to our class discussion on mindful learning with our guest speaker, Professor Emily Satterwhite.

10 Replies to “I’d rather be playing than working”

  1. I enjoyed reading the post. The example you brought about soccer was interesting: Instead of teaching a concept in a theoretical way, we could put it in a competition style, so players become more attentive to the ‘quality’ of performing a task rather than merely focusing on ‘completing’ a task!

    I have also thought about putting a problem into the context of a real-world application to encourage more engagement as another example of mindful learning. I’m a TA for a construction course this semester. We had an assignment about estimating the cost of the project. The assignment starts with a storyline about building a shopping center and all parties involved (engineer, contractor, etc) have their names and backgrounds described. I think it was a nice way to engage students in doing the assignment as they can relate the problem to a scenario in the industry.

    • Hey Milad, I think that is a great exercise! It reminds me of the Civil Engineering senior design project at WVU where students are asked to submit a design for a proposed project on the WVU campus. The designs are weighed against other contractor proposals and the best design is selected for implementation. Thanks for your feedback!

  2. I think that adding competitiveness to student activities has benefits but also some drawbacks. I know some students would take the competition too seriously and others would be uncomfortable with being aggressive. But the value of competitive activities does promote more adaptive learning and creativity that is too useful to pass up as a teaching tool. Perhaps a good middle ground is letting students choose their role in the activity and include a more supportive or passive option to them that still keeps them involved?

    • Hey Patrick, Thanks for your feedback. I agree that people’s competitiveness can swing to both extremes and that it’s difficult to find a good middle ground. Actually in my responses to other comments I tried to point out that competition may not be the best approach to student activities and that rewarding curiosity and creative thinking may have the same or better affect. What do you think?

  3. I would second the idea that reimagining the way we teach would also affect our way of life and specifically the way we work. I think there is too much disparity between our life as students and when we land in a job. A playful- life time learning is something I always aspire to be.

  4. I like your thoughts on how to include play in the play. Competition certainly engages people. Though it also depends on what is at stake. I really thought about your response to Blayne that the reward may not necessarily be for winning. However, after certain times, if there is no real reward for the competition, won’t the interest be lost? How do we deal when competition becomes commonplace? Again, I am not suggesting to take out competition and certainly, there are other mindful methods available to engage. I think it is necessary to keep the learning dynamic and have different approaches for different aspects. The learning stays with us for the lifetime and transcends into our daily life. With our minds not stuck on one particular method, we will not hesitate to experiment and get the best way to deal with situations.

    • Hey Akshay,
      Thanks for the comment! First of all, I think we’re thinking along the same lines but I’m going to focus my response toward your comments about competition. I agree with you that you can’t or shouldn’t eliminate competition and that there must be some reward. However, I think we could redefine the reward and perhaps put more emphasis on the journey instead of the outcome. As I was thinking about how to respond to your comment I went back and reread my blog post. My example of using competition to motivate my players to work harder really demonstrates that my players aren’t motivated by the prospect that working on improving their passing skills will make them better soccer players. Instead their focus is on winning the competition (by any means necessary). Therefore, even though my players are having more fun and working harder, they may not actually be achieving the goal that I set for them, which is to improve their passing accuracy. In contrast, when I was growing up I wasn’t driven by the need for competition because I had fun playing soccer and was self-motivated. I wanted to be a great soccer player. Going back then to the point I made earlier, if people felt rewarded by other things besides winning (e.g., by their self-improvement or a new discovery), then there would be less of a need for competition and with it, perhaps, people could achieve more than what the competition goals have outlined for them.

      I went searching to see if I could find an article related to what I was thinking and I found this article from The Atlantic:

      Schools Are Missing What Matters About Learning: Curiosity is underemphasized in the classroom, but research shows that it is one of the strongest markers of academic success


      To summarize, the article emphasizes that schools do not do enough to foster their students’ intellectual and motivational curiosities or to recognize curious students who might excel in gifted-and-talented programs because of their desire to “explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events” (i.e., their curiosity). I really like how the article ends:

      “All in all, the Fullerton study is proof that giftedness is not something an individual is either born with or without—giftedness is clearly a developmental process. It’s also proof that giftedness can be caused by various factors. As the Gottfrieds write in their book Gifted IQ: Early Developmental Aspects, “giftedness is not a chance event … giftedness will blossom when children’s cognitive ability, motivation and enriched environments coexist and meld together to foster its growth.””

      My takeaway from this article is that encouraging and rewarding curiosity may be a better way to motivate students to become lifelong learners.

  5. Kristen- I appreciate your thoughtful response and as a former soccer player, can totally relate to how the competitive aspect of drills actually related to increased results in other realms (passing, first touch, etc.). However, something that I kind of mentioned about the education system is that it often mirrors life- for instance, much like there are competitions to win the soccer drill, we also compete for higher grades, better SAT scores, and things of that nature. Thus, what I kind of pointed out is that I think changing our education system may result in a change in how we live life. Perhaps I am wrong in this belief, but do you think it is possible to change the nature of education without changing the way we operate in other aspects of how we life, including athletics?

    • Thanks for reading my blog! I really love your point about education mirroring life. I also enjoyed contemplating whether or not changing the nature of education will change the way we function in everyday life, and in addition, if this was good or bad. To answer your question, I don’t think you can change the nature of education without changing how we live our lives. However, I also don’t think that society will therefore become a more hostile, competitive environment. I think competiveness is a learned trait; children start out playing and then learn to be competitive. What if the reward wasn’t always just for winning? I am optimistic that if we change education in ways that promote creativity, mindful learning, individualism, and collaborative thinking, then people will think about problems differently, be more inclusive and respectful toward the ideas of others, and society will benefit as a whole.

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