(By Brian Slabbert)
Very seldom do teachers put an emphasis on having fun in their classrooms. We often have this misconception that when children have fun in the classroom, they are not learning and we too often compartmentalize having fun and teaching as two separate things.
In my limited experience as a primary school teacher I have seen how important it is to have your pupils enjoy coming to your class. If you can get your pupils to look forward to having their lesson with you and you take the time to make that personal connection, then you have won 80 percent of the battle. The other 20 percent is teaching them the relevant content.
It is especially important for children at primary school level to enjoy a subject and develop a love for that specific subject. The reason for this is that, as with all things in life, we put extra effort into things that we enjoy and hence we tend to excel in those specific areas. If we do not enjoy something, then we generally try to avoid it and in most cases we develop a negative feeling towards it when it is forced upon us.
As a Maths teacher I have found that many pupils come into my class at the start of a year harbouring negative feelings towards Maths. This is usually from a bad past experience or, in many cases, from hearing their parents or older siblings talking about how difficult Maths is.
How do I change their perceptions about my subject and how do I get them to look forward to my class, you might ask? I do not have all the answers, but I can share with you what I have seen to work for myself and many other teachers.
The first suggestion that I would make is to introduce something like a weekly feature into your class, preferably something that seemingly has nothing to do with your subject. I have seen teachers who have introduced facts of the week, and would write interesting and funny facts on a section of the board. The children absolutely love this and it usually gets them excited and lightens their mood a bit. They can also be encouraged to bring their own facts or to do more research on a specific fact and report back their findings to the rest of the class.
Another feature that I have seen to work well has been the Friday video. This is a funny video clip, usually of people or animals doing silly things or falling. The video is not more than five minutes long, but it helps to get them to your class and to get them excited for your lesson after a long week.
Lastly, children love riddles and jokes and it is another way that you can interact with them. Tell them a mid-week riddle and you will soon have them streaming to your class wanting to share their own riddles with you.
There are many other strategies that teachers can employ and please do not be afraid to try something different in your class, if it works then keep it, otherwise dump it and move on.
Personal connection is another focus area that can go a long way in winning over a pupil. For instance, if you have a child in your class that can speak another language, then try to learn a greeting in that language and the next time that you see that child greet them and see the surprise on their face. Maybe you have a pupil in your class that is interested in video games, ask them what game they are playing and what the objective is. If you really want to make an impression, then go and read more about the game on the internet and ask the child about specific characters. You will be pleasantly surprised by how that specific pupil will respond to you from that point on.
I challenge you to try to incorporate one or more of these ideas in your teaching. You will most probably find that these strategies will add another dimension to your teaching and it will not only get your pupils more excited and interested in your subject, but it will give you a new sense of fulfilment as well.
– Brian Slabbert