Playing School

I am sitting in class at the moment, minding a group of kids for another teacher that had a meeting to attend. The kids are good, working quietly and getting their task done…

Then up popped a mate on Skype, a teacher from Saskatchewan, asking a couple of questions about a podcasting project I did last semester so we chatted online for a while talking about all sorts of podcasting stuff. He did however mention that where he was in Saskatchewan was having a huge snow blizzard at the moment, and that a friend of his had a some photos of the storm on his blog.

I headed over to his friends blog and found an interesting post about what happens in school during a snow day. What I found interesting was this comment…

“We took the morning to divide our 13 student class (a result of a depleted school population) into four groups to create a project about the effects of the blizzard. We had a podcast group, a newsletter group, a video group and a digital story group.”

This is what school should be like everyday. Kids creating and publishing content based on what’s important to them and the world.

It’s true isn’t it? Kids really can see a very clear dividing line between doing authentic tasks that matter to them, and doing tasks that simply require them to “play school”. Playing school is all about doing things to keep the teachers happy, who are in turn often just keeping the system happy. I keep observing that when we treat kids like intelligent human beings with interests and passions and we design tasks that enable them to feed those interests and those passions, whether they fall within the boundaries of some arbitrary curriculum or not, they become truly engaged in what they are doing.

I could tell you quite a few stories about tasks where I’ve had students doing real tasks that they truly cared about, that let them explore ideas that truly mattered to them, and where they went way above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that every i was dotted and every t was crossed. If it matters to the kids they will take enormous care with their work.

The problem with most school tasks is they are so lacking in relevance to kids. We ask them to “submit” work, where we should be asking them to “publish” work. We ask them to “write” where we should be asking them to “communicate”. We threaten them with deduction of marks if a task is not “successful”, instead of rewarding them for trying something new. And we continually ask kids to engage with work that most of us would object to doing ourselves. Have you ever looked at the tasks you ask kids to do? I mean really looked at those tasks, from the perspective of the kid? It doesn’t surprise me that many kids are bored with school.

Let’s think more about designing learning experiences for the kids we teach that are more in line with the sorts of tasks that we’d like to do ourselves. Let’s try to make these tasks truly curious, engaging, interesting, enthralling, fascinating experiences…

We live in a world that has so many possibilities. Let’s try and build some of those incredible possibilities into the school experience.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Playing School by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.