Happy Classroom—lessons from the playground
Lately, with the arrival of positive psychology, the importance of well-being and happiness are attracting a blaze of attention worldwide. Parallel to this, in the scenario of education, happy school is a theme rapidly being circulated among educationists.
Creating happy schools has become one of the objectives of many educational institutions. A school which sets out to ameliorate happiness in its culture has to begin from student happiness itself.
What makes a student happy?
The technological revolution has restructured the cause of happiness of the new generation. Their happiness is in a symbiotic relationship with the electronic world. Mobile games give them more happiness than gardening. Watching a movie is more exciting than reading a book. Hollywood action films are more appealing when they want to lift their mood. The kind of happiness today’s generation savour is not easy to create in the school atmosphere.
In the school atmosphere, happiness cannot be seen as something separated from learning experiences. Happiness has to be oozed out of learning situations. Hence, happy schools fundamentally succeed if the teaching and learning culture of the school trains the minds to discover the joy of learning.
Learning becomes a joyful experience if it incorporates the dynamics of place/situation where the students are happiest. Observe the students, when are they happiest? For sure, it is in the playground. Does it mean that to make students happy, the classroom should mimic the playground? To be frank, yes. Not that all the games in the playground should be brought into the classroom or the activities inside the classroom should be treated playfully. But teaching and learning inside the classroom can replicate some psychosocial dynamics operating in the playground which guarantee student involvement and happiness.
It is easy to answer the query – what makes students happy. But why certain things make them happy? The concern of the educator should be around the whys of happiness. All happy situations have some common ingredients. It is not crude pleasure alone which makes the thought of playground irresistible. The air of curiosity and excitement, the sportsman spirit, absence of fear, an atmosphere to compete without animosity, an opportunity to burn physical and mental energy in unison are the basic factors which brew reservoirs of happiness in the playground. In order to disseminate a culture of the joy of learning, educators must pay attention to these factors.
Suspense is a major ingredient of any game. It titillates the players’ basic instinct to uncover what is hidden. The challenges posed by the opponent unleash a gush of energy. The player’s curiosity heightens when he imagines the possible moves of the opponent. Without curiosity, one cannot enter a game, assimilate its rules/norms and navigate towards success.
A curious mind is the rudimentary requirement for active meaningful learning. The joy of learning will be a distant dream if learning is a mechanical act where the learner masticates the material to be learned only to regurgitate it onto the exam answer sheet later.
Not many educators are aware of curiosity-happiness connection in learning. The joy of learning floats on the alertness fuelled by curiosity. Lethargy and lack of motivation subjugate the learner when he is not curious about the things to be learned.
Teaching methods must be capable of arousing curiosity in the minds of the learner. For example, any incomplete information presented as a challenge has the power to titillate the basic inquisitive nature of a student. On the contrary, complete information passively transferred through lecture method does not ensure involvement in learning. In the absence of curiosity, the joy of learning becomes a casualty.
The reason behind the irresistible urge to return to the playground is nothing but the memory of excitement and the elated feeling spurting from the unexpected twists and turns in games. It is simply irresistible. The student wants to go through it again and again.
It is the element of wonder incorporated into the classroom teaching which excites the students and keeps their brain alive. For instance, E=mc2 as an equation of energy-mass relation has nothing much in it to excite students’ sensibilities. But explaining it in terms of its mammoth practical possibilities can facilitate unfolding of a ‘sense of wonder’ in the intellect of the learner.
To elicit excitement the educator must be a keen observer of the intrinsic interests of the students of a particular age because interest and wonder operate in tandem with each other. What made the students wonder when they were in elementary school, need not work when the students are adolescents. What excites a student from rural/low socioeconomic background is not necessarily relished by students from high socio-economic status.
In addition to this, to sustain alertness the teacher should make sure that more and more sense organs are aroused and involved in the act of learning. Latest teaching strategies orchestrated inside digital classrooms are very much conducive for this. Interplay of curiosity and excitement helps the students to assimilate the material to be learned in a joyful manner.
A game is not a game if there is nothing in it to challenge the player. All students are challenge seekers. They need optimal challenges to prove their worth. They have no interest in challenges which are easy to clinch. On the other hand, challenges that are too tough are not their cup of tea. The playground provides them with optimal challenges appropriate to their age. The act of resolving challenges boosts the dopamine activity in the brain that they want to return to the playground and prove their worth again and again. The same chemical changes replicate inside the brain when they watch similar games on television where star professional performers triumph over unexpected challenges on the field.
It is the in-depth knowledge about the intellectual functioning of the students sitting in front of him which equips an educator to carve out niches of optimal challenges while delivering the content matter. Just as highly challenging tasks cause disinterest, a task with little space for challenge fails to motivate minds. At the same time, a task need not be challenging in a similar manner to all the students sitting in the classroom. A challenging task attracts students only if it can boost their sense of competence in each stage of resolving it. A sense of competence thus gained enhances self-efficacy, esteem and prepares the mind for more challenging tasks. This is how students learn the lessons of perseverance inside the classroom ambience.
Absence of fear of failure
The joy of play springs from the fearlessness inherent in it. While playing, fear of failure does not overwhelm a student. On the contrary, the fear of examination is the domineering feeling when it comes to academics. Failure in the playground and the classroom are treated differently. Failing in an exam is interpreted as a fault.
Even after failing many times the student is eager to return to the playground and try his mettle once again. Failure in an academic subject often develops an aversion towards the subject and the student loses interest in it. What is the difference? From where does the energy come for him to try again and again in the playground?
The answer lies in the motivating factor. In the playground, intrinsic motivation is the driving force while in the classroom motivation is external or extrinsic. For most students, a reason for learning is fear of failure in examination or pressure from parents or teachers. Fear of punishment, competition among classmates, are factors which fuel daily classroom activities. This snatches away the joy of learning. Due to this, student’s natural inclination goes wayward; participation in the classroom activities becomes mechanical; consequently interest in learning withers away. Teaching which is in tune with the intrinsic motivation of the student helps the students to discover the joy of learning.
Balanced consumption of physical and mental energy
As an organism human being functions effectively when there is balancing of energies. The education system of today is bent upon enriching the brain as if it is an organ separated from other body parts. Performance-oriented classroom teaching where scores in the examination are the only concern, ignores the necessity of physical movement. The playground is the only place where physique and psyche function in a harmonious manner. For a student who is sitting in the classroom from morning to evening at a stretch, his physique is in a constant fight with his psyche. Maintaining attention and focus becomes a hazardous task here. Competition and commercialization have rendered the definition of good school as that which scores 100% success in board exams. Hence, teachers striving to clinch the label of ‘good school’, pack the students inside the classroom from morning to evening not even allowing them to have their due share of time meant for non-academic activities. No wonder the student prefers the playground as a joyous thing which rarely visits the classroom learning.
Happy schools protect the happiness of students at any cost. They know the fact that when students are not happy, learning does not occur. A classroom which is dry, monotonous and fear-evoking always dissuades student performance and never delivers on learning objectives. To sustain interest in learning, teaching ambience must be happy and exciting. For this, teachers must probe into circumstances and reasons which make students happy. Incorporating those reasons in the classroom teaching will transform classroom learning and teaching. Students will become discoverers of the joy of learning.
Jeny Raphael is a higher secondary school teacher working in Kerala, India. She has 16 years experience in the field of teaching. She has published more than 15 research papers in various national, international journals. At present she is doing research in adolescent psychology in the Bharathiar University, Coimbatore.