Wednesday, 15 August 2018

It looks like fun but are they learning?

It looks like fun but are they learning is a chapter written by Petrich, Wilkinson and Bevan in the book Design Make Play (2013) they write, "Well, it looks like fun....[pause]...but are they learning?   Strange that because an experience looks like fun then it is harder for some to think that there is learning involved.  I know many teachers in Aotearoa/New Zealand that would have had play questioned as relevant learning - comments such as,  'they are JUST playing and having fun'.  Their words resonated with me and probably with many many teachers who understand and value learning that comes from tinkering with your own ideas.  They wrote about a question that they had been asked many times,
Over the last couple of years I have researched and facilitated many workshops on tinkering and started this blog as a way to capture some of my ideas.  Admittedly this blog has taken many different pathways over time and I attribute this to the notion of tinkering.  Tinkering is ultimately about inquiry.  For me one aspect of tinkering has been about taking an idea and letting it bounce around in my head for awhile - shaping and reshaping my thinking - it's about being able to mentally take apart an idea, belief, tradition or way of being  and then maybe putting it back together as it was or totally reshaped by my thinking.

Let me explain further......
Last year I started pondering on a question and this question became the lens that I looked through personally and professionally.    My question was.......
Who said good is good?
I had somewhat naively always considered myself as a person who is free spirited with regard to having my own ideas and thoughts.  However, this quote from Ingersoll along with many other writers started my thinking about my own thinking - for instance was my thinking really my own or was it shaped by a myriad of influences current, past and through generations of traditions.  Had I ever considered why I thought something was 'good'?

From tinkering with the idea of 'who said good is good' I set about to inquire and critically consider my own bias and cultural knowledge of what I consider good is.    "The proper time to influence the character of a child is 100 years before he is born.  In each of us lives our childhood and the values of past generations", is a quote from Robert ten Bensel.  If I am influenced by the thinking of those 100 years ago what was happening then in education and beyond?  What did teaching and learning look like?

Other than me tinkering with my own ideas of 'good' what does this have to do with my teaching practice and the conversation of 'but are they learning'?  Well.... actually everything.  If we are not open to new thinking eg. teacher's inquiry then we will be stuck in the past hundred years of thinking about what learning looks like.  The question of 'it looks like fun but are they learning' is influenced by people's own experience of education.  They remember back to the day when as a child they were tortured by education. Oh, maybe 'tortured' is too strong a word but at the moment I cannot find another to describe the meaningless hours spent behind a desk being expected to digest information only to regurgitate it  later during an exam.  Now that does not sound like fun!  There are those though that  "..understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning."(Dougherty (Design,Make,Play))  For those that do not, maybe it is hard to understand that fun can be synonymous with learning.

All teachers should be open to tinkering with ideas - putting their ideas of teaching and learning under the lens of who said this is good?  The only way to shift education is to be open to possibilities, to be reflective practitioners and to engage with inquiry.  In a previous post titled 'I never thought I'd...' there is a video that considers the idea of education not shifting in a 100 years.  I think in Aotearoa it has, well it is starting to.  Play based learning is valued in both early childhood and primary school.
The New Zealand Curriculum embraces teaching and learning as inquiry stating,
  "Students will be encouraged to value:
  • innovation, inquiry, and curiosity, by thinking
    critically, creatively, and reflectively;"
 Te Whāriki (2017) states that "play and playfulness are valued" and "Children are most likely to generate and refine working theories in learning environment where uncertainity is valued, inquiry is modelled, and making meaning is the goal."

As teachers we should delight in stretching our own thinking about teaching and learning, keeping up to date with research, not stuck in out dated ways of being and constantly critiquing our practice through our inquiry.  Not just believing in tinkering but also modelling that tinkering with ideas is fun, stretches us, grows creative problem solving and ensures we stay current in our thinking and practice.   Only then we will understand deep in our bones that YES, THEY ARE LEARNING EVEN IF TO AN OUTSIDER IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE JUST HAVING FUN!


  1. What an inspiring blog post. Thank you. Yesterday I spent time with Will Richardson who wrote 'Why School'. He used a term 'child honouring'. Is our learning place honouring of children? The other question "What is learning?" I love how you show yourself learning and how intricate that journey is to us then supporting children in their learning. If we can idenitfy learning for ourselves, then won't we be more set to help others on their journey.

    1. Thank your Tara. Oh, now that sounds like another interesting book to read. I have just Googled Will Richardson and there are several videos of him talking online. Love the term 'child honouring' it fits well with our NZ understanding of children having mana and how we ensure that everyone mana stays intact.