“It is, in fact, possible for students to experience a real joy of learning in a way that reinforces—not comes at the expense of—developing critical skills.” Tony Wagner
Joyful learning is a key idea embedded in our vision, and so as I walk about our campuses, I often rejoice in the way in which joyful learning is manifesting itself in our school life, and the manner in which we continue to nurture an atmosphere that allows for that sort of learning to bubble up so frequently.
Six years ago, driven by our vision, we identified a need to shift our approaches to teaching and learning. Our journey started at the early years level with a trip to Reggio Emilia, where our entire team went to be immersed in the possibilities. The team came back invigorated and ready to share their thinking with others, constructing a statement of beliefs that would further inform their practice. Concurrently, as a school, we developed Destiny Plans to guide our work, as we pursued specific aims centered on more constructivist practices, specifically, inquiry as a lens through which we could approach all teaching and learning.
Throughout our journey, we have collaborated, tried out new ideas and created an environment in which students benefit from approaches that are conducive to experiencing joy in learning, while strengthening their intellectual and academic prowess. To us, it has been about living our mission to be inquisitive, creative and passionate, or what Tony Wagner refers to as passion, play and purpose.
Whether it is using Morfo as a vehicle to illustrate the results of a character analysis in a novel, exploring the creative process via time lapse, teaching their own parents how to play the gamelan, challenging their own thinking through a concept driven math lesson, or during I-Time, when students choose to pursue questions of their own, there are plenty examples of joyful learning, and learning through joyful experiences, across grade levels in both of our elementary campuses.
What I am observing is exactly what Tony Wagner referred to, in the quote I shared at the beginning of this post, that this sort of environment can go hand in hand with intellectual and academic rigor. When concepts, dispositions and skills are delivered through meaningful content, in an engaging and nurturing environment, joyful learning emerges. We are seeing that in action at the elementary level and, as I hear my colleagues from the MS and HS divisions speak to the kinds of experiences their students are participating in, there is no doubt in my mind that the idea is taking a strong hold across all divisions at our school.
In terms of measuring the impact of joyful learning on our students’ cognitive growth, it is good to consider Dr. Judy Willis’ work, a well known neurologist and researcher. In The Science of Joyful Education she states:
“The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt.”
Via our twitter feed @jiselementary, we aim to share our pride in the many ways in which our students are experiencing the joy of a “just right” amount of challenge, while experiencing the thrill of what it means to understand, to think, to create, to push the boundaries of possibilities.