Real, fun, and relevant
Sept. 16, 2013
by Jenni Sebora

The top things that high school students want from their school experience – as revealed by a survey – include real and relevant work. They want real work that matters. Kids consider most homework to be artificial. They prefer problem-solving real problems.

Stress affects learning. If students do not feel comfortable in the classroom or learning environment, a student certainly enters this atmosphere with stress.

Studies reveal that learning tasks need to be behaviorally relevant to the learner for them to really connect and to really enter long-term learning.

Students want more choices. High school students realize that not everybody learns the same way, or are interested in the same things.

In neurologist and educator Judy Willis’s book, “Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning,” it is conveyed that when joy and comfort don’t exist in the classroom and are replaced with homogeneity (no differentiation of learning), when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are farther away from effective processing of information and long-term memory storage.

I always appreciate when my own children are given assignments in which they can delve into topics that interest them. While using learning strategies, the assignment is trying to teach them the “how to think,” versus “what to think.” This will certainly lead to a higher level of learning.

Students want learning to be interesting. If it isn’t interesting, they won’t be engaged. They may regurgitate facts, but most likely, they won’t keep it in their brains.

When learning is more interesting, they are more likely to connect with it and store it in their brains. It is a fact, that when something is more fun or taught in a fun way, different parts of the brain are fired up, which helps with learning and retaining it. Neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphin, and oxygen are increased when fun is involved.

Brain research does suggest that fun is not just beneficial to learning, but required for real learning and long-term memory. The highest level of executive thinking-learning occurs when students experience, as teachers say, the “aha” moments – when the learning is in an atmosphere of fun and exuberant discovery of the concept.

I usually start the day with humor with my young adult students/protégés. It is a wonderful way to start the day or a lesson. In fact, I laugh a lot with my students, and this sets up and provides an atmosphere of comfort, safety, and acceptance. It also teaches that even if things go wrong, or we get “up on the wrong side of the bed,” we can move on and not allow the negativity to prevail for the day.

It does not mean that everything is a laughable moment, or there isn’t seriousness taken to learning. Actually, when a lesson is started with humor, students’ alertness is increased and the information that follows is attached or connected to this positive emotion, which in turn, leads to greater memory of the information.

Wow! What a smile and a laugh can do. I know it greatly affects my day in a positive manner.

Teachers continue to be a top priority for students. Students want teachers to be their mentors. They acknowledge that teachers have more wisdom than they do, and they have a lot to learn from them. Teachers need to connect with students.

As parents, we can use this information instead of poo-pooing that learning should be fun and relevant, because we know there are plenty of people – probably most of us at one time or another – who say that not everything in life is fun.

That certainly is true, but we can spice up even our mundane tasks with energy, enthusiasm, and maybe some humor when appropriate. Certainly that enhances the situation, which makes the task more bearable, even more fun.

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