Lust for Learning

My 11 year old granddaughter and I were discussing her Year 7 lessons. ‘They’re boring and depressing,’ she commented. ‘All we ever do is write.’ So I asked her what she thought would help to liven up her school days. ‘Well, we could play games, sometimes,’ she said, without hesitation. 

She is not alone. Many young people find school learning so boring, they switch off. At best they fail to listen and end up day-dreaming until the bell goes for their escape. At worst, some kids opt out of lessons and truant. So, does something need to be done about keeping all children engaged with learning? Yes, definitely!!!

I found myself thinking about my granddaughter’s negative comments. She is so lucky – having achieved excellent SAT results, and been placed in the top set for maths and English. I also know, without any doubt, that however bored she may feel in any lesson, she will still knuckle down and do what she has to do – because that is how she has been brought up. Education! Education! Education! That word has been drummed into her from the Reception year.

However, those comments took me back many years – to my probationary year in teaching (1978 -79), in a secondary school. As a young teacher straight out of college and without experience, I remember being allocated the bottom set for maths. These children were bored out of their minds, struggling to understand the curriculum in the first place, and prone to exhibiting their lack of engagement in ways that no self-respecting teacher wants to end up with – disruptive behaviour. No teacher wants to end up unable to keep control of a class of children. So, newly-trained, and intent on finding my way into this highly demanding profession – my initial thoughts were simply to survive and maintain control. But how?  

So I came up with the idea of games: snap, bingo, happy families, and so on. Eventually, my low-ability maths class learned to enjoy my lessons because I tried to make them fun. My own children, young at the time, tell me that they remember me spending hours in the evenings, cutting pieces of card into small squares, and using marker pens to make my little games: for example, a snap game on equivalent fractions – recognising matching pairs (eg. 3/4 and 12/16) from the different sets of values. Of course, all of this was way before whiteboards, IT and other modern teaching aids that dictate learning for today’s children. 

My granddaughter is right to draw our attention to the fact that at least some learning should be fun. Five hours is a long time to spend being bored and disinterested. So, what can be done? The National Curriculum needs a thorough overhaul. Maybe some of my ideas are controversial – but has Shakespeare outstayed his welcome on the English curriculum? Do children need to work in groups, interacting with learning far more than they do? Further, would such interaction help to promote their use of language, encourage better speaking and listening skills, and support literacy progression across the whole curriculum? 

So, how can we all – at government level, educationalists, teachers, Teaching Assistants and parents – work together, seeking to develop in all our young people that lust for learning that eventually breeds success? 

Watch this space – because my next few blogs address this question in detail, starting with reading as the first essential hurdle for all children. That lust for learning starts with building confidence – that every young person can become an efficient and effective reader. 

PS. Sylvia Edwards is author of thirteen books on education, mainly on literacy and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), plus a further five for parents. Now retired, she remains interested in, and passionate about, improving the educational outcomes for all young people, especially those with SEND. 

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