Considering the nature of the discussion about cooperative learning I thought I would like to share with this list something I received from another list. Louis writes periodical story/observation pieces which are based upon his observations. It runs about 5 pages so be patient.
Fun reading Ted Panitz email@example.com
Date: Sat, 01 Jul 1995 06:17:29 -0400 From: Louis Schmier <lschmier@GRITS.VALDOSTA.PEACHNET.EDU> Subject: A Random Thought: The Fun Of It All Sender: "Forum for Teaching & Learning in Higher Educ." <STLHE-L@unb.ca>
Well, I just came in from an interesting walk wondering if mosquitos and gnats sleep? I don't think they do. They, the 77 degree heat, and 97 percent humidity are an unholy trinity--even at 4:45 in the morning--that ordinarily would make walking the darkened streets at this time of year anything but fun and games. Yet, it was a sort of a strangely fun walk this muggy, sticky, steamy equatorial morning even if my skin was quickly getting a pale greenish hue. I was giggling and at times laughing to myself almost the entire way. With my chest convulsing, my stomach muscles tightening, and my short chuckling snorts, everything was totally out of sync with my feet. I couldn't breathe properly, my cadence was shot, and I was almost always off balance. Stumbled once or twice as I lost my balance. But, it turned out to be a delightful- -or at least bearable--walk. I had these dancing images of groups of laughing students standing up in class and playfully singing their ABCs. Others were cackling as they did twenty jumpingjacks next to their desks. Still others were howling as they struggled to mimic barnyard animals. Their moos, oinks, baas, and cock-a- doodle-doos pierced not only the air, but their spirits as well. That will get them for not getting the correct answer to the questions thrown at them by other students during a game the students devised. But, Cheshire smiles were everywhere. Then, there was the sight of tears of laughter rolling down cheeks at the sight of Jimmy, a football player, in bonnet and dress, broom in hand, as he portrayed a frontier housewife in a skit. I saw this picture of the place rocking during the scavenger hunt presentation as Andy stood up, fishing pole in hand, presented his symbol of Herman Melville, miming fishing, futily fighting to reel in his catch, being pulled into the water, and ending his presentation with a feign wipe of his sweaty brow and saying "It's a whale of a transcendental fish story." There was this vision of the place rocking with spontaneous and uproarious laughter during a brain- storming and mind-mapping session as student furious shouted out, screamed out, poured through the book, feveriously writing on the blackboard, walls, and huge pieces of butcher paper. Images flashed across my mind of students jumping, reaching, stretching, for Tootsie Pops as they hurled through the air in their direction as incentive, reward, prize, encouragement, nurture, support, pick-me- up, or just for the heck of it. I saw smileys appear on student faces and tense muscles relax as the music floated through the air at the beginning and end of class. I guess these images kept popping up as a lingering effect of thinking about the child within. I think it was also the fact that for the last few days I've been reading student journals and evaluations from last term and the first journal entries from this term. And, I've been noticing that the word to describe the class almost all the students used, second only to "caring", was "fun." They link with other words and phrases like learning, excitement, feeling good, picked me up, experience the class. I remember one student sort of summing it up and writing, "I did not want to miss one day of class, I looked forward to coming, because it was so much fun to be there and have fun learning. It was some kind of a turn-on The fun of it all made it a worthwhile, enjoyable and rewarding adventure!" After reading those journals I knew that I had truely had a friend, a partner, a colleague, and compatriot to whom the students could turn to help them combat the monster called fear, denigration, and tension. I invite this buddy of mine into everyone of my classes to work with everyone everyday. We team teach and the students team learn. We enter class arm in arm, Tootsie Pops sticking out from our faces, smiling to the tune of my boombox. No, we bounce, dance, sing, and skip cross the threshold together. We're allies in our war against that ugly, evil troll. My inseparable pal is beautiful, bubbly, animated. She's a good fairy. Her name is FUN. Don't be deceived by her quixotic manner; don't mistake her charm for weakness, her joy for frivolity, her laughter for childishness, her skipping for casualness, her excitement for absurdity, her playfulness for silliness, her beaming smiles for immaturity . She and her dancing, singing, skipping family of playful, uplifting pixies named laughter, excitement, play, joy, serendipity, surprise, glee, merriment, smile, giggle, chuckle, and chortle are as powerful as boulders hurled from a Roman assault catapult. She and giggle can breach thick guarded walls of isolation; with a chuckle she can leap over putrid moats reeking with fear; with a laugh she will enter and refresh defensive redoubts foul with self-doubt; with glee she will bring light into the darkened rooms of worthlessness, with a chortle she will electrify dead circuits of hurt, and a guffaw will blast open up the strongest locked doors of insecurity. Fun floats around the class around dapping a shoulder here and there with her sparkling wand, daintly saying, "Oh, yes you can", "See the wonder of it all", "Go ahead", It's safe in here", "Take it easy", "Don't be afraid", "Let go." And when that malicious monster of fear and tension growls, with an easy wave of her exorcising hand, with a deceptively delicate voice, she says to that pimpled, twisted imp, "Shoo, shoo, you naughty ugly little thing. Leave these good people alone." And surprisingly, it starts to move backward, fear in its blood-shot eyes, and slink away. Once that monster slithers out the room, we start learning. Having fun in class comes naturaly to me. Without it, I feel too stuffy. I feel dead. The students look dead. The lights are out. More than once I have been criticzed by colleagues for not being serious. "Acting like its kindergarten." I take that as a compliment. It is not given as one. I get the feeling that they feel that there's something wrong, inept, unprofessional, amiss, frivilous, insignificant, if you're happy. Authority and knowledge equals seriousness. Laughter equals childishness, spontaneity, uproariness, insignificance. Outlandish clowns make us laugh, not professors. A classroom is not a circus. We'll role in the aisles at Steinfeld, but the class room is not a place for leisure. We pay Red Skelton to make us laugh with Klem Kediddlehopper, but the class room is not a theater. So many teachers are convinced that students must suffer, to paraphrase Hamlet, the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of learning, that students have to wear hair coats, flay themselves, whip themselves, suffer, suffer, suffer. Must they endure intellectual and emotional asceticsm as proof of their devotion and academic piety; they must isolate themselves the joys of life as some sort of intellectual cleansing ritual. If they are enjoying, if they are laughing, if they are smiling, they are ne'er-do-well-revelers. They are childish; they are kindergartenish; they are immature. There's an all too prevailing attitude that say there seems to be something not quite right about the student and teacher who are happy or there's something a bit unintellectual in a classroom that rocks with laughter. I almost get the feeling that all too many people think there must be something wrong with a classroom where students so enjoy themselves that they refuse to miss a class or where teachers and students are sad the class comes to an end. They must be, as the line goes, frivilous blockheads, without a grain of common sense in their bodies, without a fibre of seriousness in their body. So many teachers take themselves so serously. They walk into class with almost a scowl on their face, a sense that their face will shatter if they make the slightest smile. After all, education is serious business; it's nothing to laugh about. No kidding around in here, education is serious business. There's nothing to make fun of or light about, education is serious business. Serious, serious, serious!! Yet, do you know what the stdudents most criticize faculty for in the journals I've read and discussions I've had on my campus, at conferences, and on internet? Aside from being so uncaring of them, it's making the class, as one student said to me in an e-mail message, "as hypnoticL and dull and monotonous and uncaring and cold and repeating and boring and lifeless and stuffy and laughless and mindless and funless and joyless and mechanical as this sentence so that it's almost impossible not to go into hybernation." Why are seriousness and enjoyment so often believed to enemeis of each other? Why was I reminded only last week that education is "serious" (there's that word again, the "S" word) and "important", and I shouldn't be so "casual" and "childish" about it; why was it suggested by some of my peers on the internet that my classes shouldn't be kindergarten? Why are so many of us wont--maybe afraid--to allow this good fairy into our classroom? Are we too rational in our classes, too serious, too organized, too ordered, too controlling, too precdictable, too mind-dulling, too taken with ourselves? Maybe. I'll leave it to sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and theologians to discuss. But the dour attitude which too often pervades our classrooms seems to be all the more reason to have chainr-breaking fun in the class room. When someone's presentation is dead, when their movement and demeanor resembles the stiffened pace and glazed stare of the zombie, there's a sense something is wrong. Fun is the springtime that awakens everyone from that dead-of-winter hybernation the student decribed. I'm no psychologist and I'm sure untold number of studies have been done on this, but it has been both my personal and professional experience that fun us probably one of the most human revealing experiences I know. It's been my experience that unless the students are having fun, they can't have a deep and sincere relationship with themselves, with each other, with me, or with the subject. In the classroom, fun breaks the straight jacket of convention, the dulling predicitablity of routine, and boring expectations of behavior. It's a stimulant, an activator; it keeps you awake and alert. But, I think having fun is, to paraphrase Victor Borge, the shortest, most human, and most equalizing distance between professor and student, among students. It brings people together. I and students are having fun in class! My God, how academically blasphemous, heretical--and foolish! We stand before the Inquisition accused of being intellectual apostates! But I say this: I have found that the bonds of caring are easier to establish in an environment of fun and joy. When we laugh we open doors and demolish separating walls. We feel closer to one another. We're more comfortable with one another. Whenever we and the students are happy, we're all less stressed, more open, more capable of seeing things, more willing to risk doing new things. I think that fun, humor, laughter, joy are wonderful tools that bring comfort into a classroom, that they are intimately related to student well-being and learning. I think that there is something sane about being just on this side of foolishness, something sound about being just on this side of riot, something really rational about being just on this side of inanity, and something productive about being just on this side of chaos. Fun lets the me and the student overcome inhibitions, relieve tensions, and raise alertness. We break out of the straightjacket of convention, hypnotic routine, dulling boredom, boring predictability. They can touch spontaneity, and serendpity. In so many, too many, of our classrooms, there is painfully little joy displayed and experiences. Having fun does not mean taking learning too casually. It does not mean learning is not occuring. To the contrary, it's almost as if fun is an aspirin to the pain of learning, a relaxant of the tightness of education. I think having fun is the strongest force towards learning. It's not just a medication; it's a powerful aphrodisiac. With all the bonding and trusts exercsies I use at the beginning of class and Athroughout the quarter, I think the environment of natural maddness, natural spontaneity, of having fun while learning, does more to bring the students together in caring, trusting, warm, jouyous, and productive relationship. I have noticed the during those moments when students laugh, they are more relaxed, more involved, their guard is down, the material seems more connect to them, and they learn more. I sense that fun brings people closer. The students are more open, their vision is sharpened. Fun is a a natural pick-me-up. When students are having fun they seem more willing to let go, take a risk. Something as simple thing as sucking on a tootsie pop opens a slit through which they can peek inside to believe in themselves, find the sweet resourcefulness, find creative uniqueness they can rely upon, and daring to dream. I can't quantify it. It's just what they write in their journals and what they feel. I remember one student writing that the fun offered her saftety to take a chance to open up and to open up to learning. "I had no idea what I am capable of," she claimed. "Having so much fun at learning gave me a sense that I was invited to the ball and that it was safe to give it a whirl and try to dance and discovered I could roll on that floor better than I thought I could." That's what I observed, and it's what I feel. Should I be firm, serious, keep my feet planted on the ground, keep my head out of the air? We're having a lively blast while other students are being bored to death. We being songful, laughing and dancing all along the way while others are being so wearisome; we're learning with abandon. Maybe the key--the real secret--to learning is an occasional chuckle, by a good guffaw, a good belly laugh. It keeps the child in all of us alive and playing. Have a good one. --Louis--
Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\