If fun is something enjoyable, then my experience of history lessons is that children of all ages enjoy learning new stories. That might, however, not be what they’d immediately suggest, were we to ask. “Videos”, “that millionaire game” and “posters” might well be the response of a few, at least until we’ve probed further. When we ask children whether they’ve enjoyed something, apart from it being a dumb question (because SO WHAT) it’s also open to chasm-like interpretations: actually, “videos”, “that millionaire game” and “posters” are, I think, responses which we think children give because that’s we’re asked in the final few days before Christmas. But I’m not so sure children are so vacuous.
What do we expect to hear? “Really hard work, Mr Peaness.” “Lots of essays, Mrs Crunchbutt.” “Tests please, Miss Fanklewitt!”
Well, of course we don’t hear that. But their responses are, I think, more nuanced than heads-down-thumbs-up or role-play. The longer I teach, the more I see that most children do actually want to be successful: they do want to learn, and they do want to be good. There are a few who don’t think they do, and there are probably a tiny, weeny little minority who, thanks to all sorts of mitigating factors, genuinely struggle with wanting to know more, but most do. And so, to most – I think – an enjoyable lesson is one where they feel successful or that they’ve worked hard, or that the teacher cares about them.
These three aren’t mutually exclusive, but sometimes children work hard and are a little more confused, and that’s okay as long as they know it’s in their best interests. And, actually, if they don’t know it’s not the end of the world, but as long as they’re told. Now, that might not feel so fun, but – again – so what? That’s not the point. If children are having fun then HEY PRESTO! Brilliant. Well done us. But, let’s be frank, this is a happy coincidence.
If a child says a lesson I teach is fun it’s usually after a story: maybe I’ve spent most of the hour telling that story. I’ve not planned it to be enjoyable, but I know that for most it will be. And also, when, at the end as I’m holding the door and saying goodbye, not one child says, “That was amazing, Sir! Can we write that much every lesson?”, I’m not disappointed because that would be mental. However, they might say that it was tough but that they get why we did it. And that’s fine because we’re trying to help children become cleverer.
They still might ask if we’re watching a video on the last day of term, and I’ll still look enormously perplexed, as if I’ve never heard that before, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get it. They’re not idiots, but they’re also not yet PhD candidates. They’re just children.