An Article i read - Some experiences on applying play to learning.
by Leah Mann with editing assistance from Diana Coogle, Amy Williams and Ela Lamblin
What if, in school, everyone always got to play? What if the concept of learning always included the concept of fun? Ela Lamblin and I, cofounders of Lelavision Physical Music and performers and presenters at the New Horizons For Learning 2004 Summer Conference, often work in classrooms to bring a sense of play to the tasks of learning.
For instance, I was recently teaching a group labeled "below grade level" readers. We were working on pronunciation and word recognition, specifically on the concept of digraphs: two consonants that make one sound. Digraph is a strange and difficult term, but these students will always remember it and what it means. Suddenly, I clutched my throat and fell on the floor feigning a dramatic death and said we would be working on "di"graphs now. The kids loved it and joined enthusiastically into the game of "ch, ch, chugging" around the room, "sh, sh, shuffling our feet, "wh, wh, whirling about.
Surprise is a playful and underused teaching tool.
In another class near one of the largest housing projects in Seattle, a middle school student just couldn't curtail his beat boxing. Instead of asking him to stop, I suggested he work with me. We became collaborators as he stood at the front of the class and backed me up with a beat while I rhythmically and arrhythmically gave directions for the assignment. The class got the instructions, the musical student felt affirmed for putting his beat in an appropriate context, and everyone got a good laugh. Fostering this sort of habitat of adventure and collaboration is another fun tool.
I am generally in schools as a guest artist or for residencies not more than eight weeks. But you educators are there every day as "significant others" and role models for these students, our future. And I am here to encourage you to take seriously not taking yourself so seriously!!
The work of play is part of Lelavision's mission, as demonstrated even in our name. "Lela" is a Sanskrit term meaning "creative spark," the aspect of creation that is "play." Ela and I bring creative play into the classroom because we are immersed daily in this messy fun as our work. We want to inspire everyone we have opportunity to work with to nurture their imagination and creativity throughout their lives.
Ela, Lelavision's resident inventor, fabricates musical sculptures, learning about and applying whatever engineering and physics principles are necessary for strength and aural capabilities. Once the sculpture is structurally sound, we begin playing, improvising and experimenting with it to find compositional and choreographic possibilities. Sometimes it takes us two years to complete this big learning-curve process. We consult and study with other experts to fully realize our hybrid integration of forms. For our most recent project, we consulted engineers from Boeing and studied Classical Indian dance and music from a visiting professor from the University of New Delhi. We transposed that "information" to instruments that look like flying saucers and volcanoes.
Learning and play can be simultaneous
At the New Horizons Conference, Lelavision will demonstrate the manifestation of this art process I just described in performance as well as provide experiential activities from our kinetic, aural, spacial and play-filled tool belt. Within our process of discovery and creation we have a motto: "Never let the fear of being bad at something stop you from trying!" We learn so much from our "mistakes," and often they become unexpected discoveries that feed and propel our work forward.
What does Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus say? "Let's get messy, take chances, make mistakes!!!!" (And learn from them!) I'd like to think that this mentality could propel students through graduation!
When Ela and I teach residencies, we often ask the students, "If necessity is the mother of invention, what would you create?" Across the board, whether students are affluent or impoverished, the number one answer is "a money-making machine." Though children in our western society seem to think the solution to their problems is best solved by outside sources, all us educators have the great opportunity to encourage them to look inward, to use their brainpower and imagination, which is their best, most accessible tool.
The second most common reply is "a homework machine-- because schoolwork is no fun." But what if fun and learning were merged more often? When Ela was young, his father made a deal with him, saying "I won't buy you any toys, but I'll help you make whatever you want." This symbiotic learning/playing process has fostered a lifestyle based in a love of science, math, engineering and invention. That same creative and learning-based lifestyle blossoms into our performances and underscores our teaching. Using gestures and sounds, we teach physics. Using whole-body and group sentences, we teach grammar. Using students as the polyrhythmic equations, we teach math.
What will your doorway be?
You know the saying? "Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime." How can we teach our children to have the gumption to stand up to life with all its challenges with well developed skills in invention, creative problem solving, self-motivated learning / inquiry / discovery?
What if education was fun and everyone got to play? What if the joy of learning radiated from everyone in the classroom – teachers and students alike? Would students stay in school? Would they score just as well (or better!) on standardized tests? What if "creative spark" set afire the imagination to serve all subjects and "play" became a synonym for "learn"?
This is big, and yet in a sense, no biggie. Incremental steps are key. First, start by teaching and leading from your own delight!
What is fun to you?
Because the converse of "Do what I say, not what I do" is truly one of the most powerful teaching tools.