October 20, 2015
(Photo courtesy of Katherine Kindle, showing a group of her students in Ethiopia)
This piece was written by Katherine Douglas Kindle, an alum of the Inspired Teaching Institute and an Institute Teacher Leader in 2012. Katherine has more than a decade of teaching experience in both the United States and abroad. Currently, she is the high school Case Manager for Learning Support at an international school in Bogota, Colombia.
“‘There’s an old Finnish saying,’ Holappa said. ‘Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.’” (The Atlantic, The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland).
I thought about this quote as I sat in multiple conference sessions at school this week. I teach in Bogota, Colombia at an international school, and we had presenters from all over the world talking to us about topics such as grading and reporting, teaching for deep conceptual understanding, how to coach others, using data to differentiate instruction, etc., but not one session on the topic of joy. Why is it that in all of the educational reforms out there, joy is so easily overlooked?
One of the key elements of Center for Inspired Teaching’s instructional model is Joy and reverence for children and the learning process. I have taught all over the world and no matter the culture, Joy is always relevant in the classroom. So, how do we foster Joy in an era of high-stakes testing and accountability? Do these things have to be at odds?
I would argue, no. Joy is possible and necessary in any educational endeavor, no matter the standards or the looming demands of standardized testing. We can teach students about persuasion by passively reading texts, silently writing analysis papers, and testing students on their ability to identify the definitions of logos, pathos, and ethos; or, we can follow the example of Inspired Teaching’s Cosby Hunt – a long-time educator in Washington, DC – and we can challenge students to participate actively in a student-directed debate tournament featuring historical figures where they practice persuasion skills in an authentic context.
When I tried the debate tournament with my own ninth graders, they got into it, using all of the persuasive techniques they could muster and chattering down the hallway as they checked the bracket to see who was ahead and who was vying for the title next. Students were present, they were engaged, and they were facing real challenges. Along the way, they independently conducted research and read challenging texts to prepare their arguments. There was Joy in the school that week, and students were engaged in an experience I hope they will remember for years to come.
Was this an extra activity that I threw together in the event we needed to fill time? No! It was carefully planned instruction, practice, and authentic feedback about the power of language, facts, and persuasion. I would argue that quality instruction and engaging in meaningful learning is, in and of itself, preparation for standardized testing. If students are struggling productively with content and learning new skills through facing authentic challenges, then they will be prepared for standardized tests.
In my classroom, I want students to reconnect with the Joy of tackling something hard and making new discoveries. Whether studying writing, algebra, or world history, there is always room for Joy. Students spend at least twelve years of their lives, five days a week, eight hours a day in school (we hope). That’s a long time to be miserable or just getting by. I want more for my students. I don’t want them just to learn to play the game of school. I want them to be engaged in meaningful and long-lasting learning and for that to happen, Joy has to be at the forefront of my planning.