From ancient times on games and play have been real political arenas. Times have not changed. Be it the Olympic Games with their connection to national pride and honor, or more close to home with the end-of-the year school games, it’s all about contest and competition. Not that this needs to evolve in a hostile or unfriendly atmosphere. Far from it; play can advance mutual acceptance and reciprocity, provided of course some stewarding here and there. A lot depends on abiding to the rules and a guardian to watch over compliance. Especially when the rules are followed evenly play really can be an encouraging political arena where social moves and group forces can mature in a thriving way. It is the whole point of entering into a game to get together as a team and become engaged to the full in pursuing one shared goal. It asks from you to rely on your team mates to get to glory. It was so in ancient times, today, for those grown up, and for the young as well.
But what if one was to follow the maxim attributed to Michael Jordan: “There is an I in Win” . Already a lot has been said and cited about team winning behavior (1) pointing to the importance of behaviors being displayed. A recent study shows that the type of behaviors that matter to have a ‘nice’ game are already operative at a very early age. Preschool children that show favorable, social positive and sharing play-behaviors (like turn taking, following up, allowing to) were more liked, received higher socio-metric status than their counterparts. The quality of play improved when acceptance behaviors were present .
As an educational arena play certainly cannot be equated with a political one dominated by the Jordan Maxim. Play to learn is something different than play to win (2). Acceptance behaviors seem to be primary key, meaning to let someone else to be a winner. Well, that certainly is a big challenge, not just for the young.
Leandra Coelho, Nuno Torres, Carla Fernandes & António J. Santos, (2017). Quality of play, social acceptance and reciprocal friendship in preschool children. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal. Pages 812-823 | Published online: 29 Sep 2017
It is a great thing, of course, when you really can connect with your teacher, experience classroom as a comfort zone where you may thrive and succeed. It certainly helps when it comes to learning (1) . But what if not? A lot needs to be in place before feeling okay with your teacher. Not in the least how your teacher responds to you. Does s(h)e knows the real you when it comes to: your preferred style in learning, your favorite interests, your fears in coping with assignments, your learning troubles, the issues you have with your classroom peers? Good teachers come a long way in their ‘knowledge of the learner’, but, say with addressing 30 of you in a class, it is demanding. It is almost impossible to satisfy all demands to the full. After all, teachers are humans too. They have preferences and styles of their own which shape the classroom to make it a ‘home’ for all students. The truth is some students thrive better than others in the livable space a teacher creates in a classroom. This would become a real disaster when teachers all would be Pygmalion (the sculptor who fell in love with his own sculpture). Unfortunately, there is evidence to the fact that they are.
An Israeli study assessed teachers’ motivation to teach, specifically with regard to their preference on student autonomy. It turned out that teachers who are high in autonomous motivation themselves stress autonomous learning in their students and adopt an autonomy-supportive style in their teaching, expecting that student are taking control over their own learning.
If teachers were sculptors the obvious inference would be that teachers should encourage learning styles in their students similar to their own. Moreover, because we, in general, favor independent learning and autonomous motivation in students (3) we need to hire teachers who have such a preference. The study’s conclusion seems to point in that direction. Perfect matches are nice but also highly unlikely, certainly when you look at a classroom community. You will find a rich variation in styles, motivation, preferences, and needs. It is not so much that we need to redirect this variation into one liking. It would be better to accept them and help teachers to deal with them for the benefit of student learning . After all teachers are not sculptors.
What makes a motivating teacher? Teachers’ motivation and beliefs as predictors of their autonomy-supportive style by: Idit Katz, Bat-Hen Shahar, in: School Psychology International 2015, Vol. 36(6) 575–88 sagepub.co.uk/ DOI: 10.1177/0143034315609969
Learning can be faked. Does not everyone recall at least one awkward moment when you said that everything was understood, clear, and copied but in fact it was not? Not all learning is straightforward or productive from the start. One needs time to grasp the gist of things, and people differ in this respect. When all learning must be visible and laid open for evaluation, i.e., be explicit, few of us would dare to explore, try out, and ask for help. We simply need the experience of probing (1).
The study cited looks at organizational places where learning can be done informally and casually. The authors provide us with a handy tool (a matrix) to identify spots that give rise to learning achievements. They mention three processes that govern these spots: reflection, sharing, and being innovate.
Considering these processes more closely reveals that in fact they are making the informal explicit – the upper right corner of my diagram. And that is fine; it is a prominent way of learning (2). The tool offered in the article would also apply, I guess, for the lower left corner: for instance, in making symposia resourceful.
But let us not forget there are more wonderful spots at which learning occurs (the non-shaded areas for instance). I would plead for learning as a play-ground – the upper left(3): to discover, walk around, inquire, and seek for emerging understandings. Being able to appreciate that the end-results can be put on hold (for a while) could add much to the value learning has for all of us.
Organisational learning as an emerging process: The generative role of digital tools in informal learning practices by Stefano Za, Paolo Spagnoletti and Andrea North-Samardzic
British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol 45, No 6, 2014, 1023–1035