Kids Don't Actually Hate That

Kids don't hate math. Not even fractions. Ask them to divide a bag of candy among themselves and watch them tackle the problem. What they hate is repeat computation, void of context. Add a timer and they really hate it.

Kids don't hate writing. Give them a relevant prompt. Let them blog to an authentic audience. Ask them to advocate for an issue and see what they write. What they hate is the lack of choice and audience and the repeat revision, using paper and pencil and formalized editing marks.

Kids don't hate homework. Ask them to interview a community member or create a photo journal or do a review of a movie. Then make optional. Watch them own their learning at home. What they hate is the lack of agency and autonomy and relevance in the packets that are often associated with homework.

Kids don't hate paper and pencil assignments. I've seen them fill notebooks with ideas and sketches and stories. What they don't like is having to use paper and pencils for the kind of assignments that are better done with computers or mobile devices.

Kids don't hate memorizing. It's not a thing of the past. Visit a playground and check out the songs they've memorized. Not just simplistic pop, either. There are kids memorizing Mumford & Sons. But they do so after being immersed in a repetitive, meaningful experience. What they hate is memorizing formulas or famous dates in history.

Kids don't hate lecture. Not when it's presented quickly, in an Ignite-style session, free of note-taking and followed up with discussion.

Kids don't hate non-fiction. They'll pick up magazines and read informational text if it's on a topic that they care about or enjoy or if they can find that it connects to their world. But ask them to fill it up with highlights and sticky notes and the process becomes joyless.

Bottom line is that that kids don't hate just about every thing that they say they hate. Often, they love those things. But it has to be done well, with some level choice, autonomy, relevance and purpose.

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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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14 comments:

  1. Love this John! Powerful reminder.

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  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! My number one pet peeve right now is the entire cloud of "I didn't like math in school" and "when are we going to use this" derogatory comments. Learning, at its core, is fun. We love to learn. We love exploring, we love school, we love stepping away from our parents into an environment where the student-teacher ratio often means we can get away with pushing boundaries.

    Math isn't bad. School isn't bad. Learning isn't bad. Almost no one who says they hate these things actually hates these things...there's almost always some other confounding factor.

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    1. So true. It's not that those things are bad. They just need to be implemented in a better way.

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  3. Kids have to do lots of things they don't like but they are still important. Yes teaching could certainly be more lively and fun and often would be more effective if done so. However, the precision of crossing the T and dotting the I have to be dealt with too as was so richly demonstrated by Dave's comment above.

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    1. The point is crossing T's and dotting i's can be learned through the pursuit of genuine interests, and is more effectively and efficiently learned that way. It doesn't have to be forced in a context with no relevance to the child.

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  4. Yes - very true!

    It's one of those things that SHOULD be obvious (after all, we adults are no different), but somehow the truth of what you wrote is often overlooked in schools. When I question why that is, the answers I come up with are:
    1. It's just plain HARDER to offer something relevant to students than it is to create generic tasks for them to do. Offering something that is relevant to students requires knowing them, listening to them and learning alongside them. It requires creativity, reaching out to outside resources, and flexibility. It's so much easier to simply make a worksheet.
    2. Most of us adults went through a school experience that included worksheets and recitation. We still have in our brains a picture of what "school" looks like, and it's just plain HARD, sometimes, to override that picture that's been hardwired in our brain.

    Of course the fact it's hard is no excuse. And of course there are many, many educators who find ways to be creative and engaging and relevant on a regular basis. I try my best to get to truly listen to my students, and to tie my course content to their goals, interests, and motivations. It's hard, but it's also fun and engaging work. Our students are brilliant, interesting and interested people. It's fun to get to know them and to figure out how to facilitate learning and growth.

    Thanks for your post!

    - Jenn

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    1. I think you're onto something with how hard it is. Authentic learning is a difficult process for the teacher. It takes time. It gets confusing. It's easier to go with dull, generic when you're tired.

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  5. Awesome post. I have an almost 5 year old who has memorized most of both Mumford & Sons.

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    1. Those are the best lyrics to memorize, too. I'm a huge fan of Mumford & Sons.

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  6. As a math teacher, my textbook is filled with problem after problem after problem. I can easily understand why my students hate homework. Your post has really got me thinking about ways to take homework away from the textbook and assign something with meaning instead. Of course the issue of standardized test scores is always hanging over my head and the issue of limited time to cram way too many standards in before April is frustrating, but in the back of my mind I do know that if I can create more meaning into my lessons my students will learn more and retain more than if I continue along the same path that has been implemented since I was in school; practice...practice..practice.

    Why that hurdle is so hard to get over I'm still not sure. It's probably time and my comfort zone that prevents me from changing something I've been doing for so long but that was true for all of the teachers who have changed their ways and have created more engaging and meaningful classrooms. If they can all do it then I know I can too. Listening to students interests is definitely key. If they come into class dreading the agenda, how much are they really going to learn anyway? When I have fun learning activities planned, they ask when we get to do those again and those are the types of activities I need to be filling my lesson plans with as much as possible. Thank you for your post.

    -Courtney

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    1. I'm still on that journey of listening to students and paying attention to their interests.

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  7. I had my students read this today and it was hilarious to see their reactions. They said, "I do hate math, I do hate writing, I do hate homework." and then they continued to read the rest of the paragraphs and the transformation that took place in their thinking changed.

    They have often rebelled against the school required reading of nonfiction during our advisory time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My challenge to these students is to find a medium in which they enjoy reading non-fiction material and to share it with each other and spread the knowledge they acquire.

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    1. Thanks for sharing the story. Very cool. It's nice to see that kind of reaction from students.

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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.