Edutainment is a word I’m claiming to have invented – It refers to the use of gimmicky techniques such as cross words, blockbusters and other active learning methods that engage students in ‘creative’ ways in the learning process, rather than more traditional, calm and reflective modes of learning – i.e. reading something, summarising it, analysing it, and then using it, in conjunction with other texts, to answer an essay.
There a basically two schools of thought when it comes to edutaintment- firstly there is the ‘they love being allowed to be children’ brigade – who think that we should cram lessons full of active learning techniques to cater for student’s short attention spans. This school of thought holds that teachers should adapt their teaching techniques to suit the students – make them feel comfortable by giving them what they want, or what they think they need, fitting into their ‘preferred learning styles’.
Then there is the school of Karl which holds that too much edutainment amounts to patronising twaddle. I believe that instead of teachers adapting lessons to students’ short attention spans, students should adapt to a style of learning that involves concentrating on the material at hand in a calm and reflective manner for extended periods.
Obviously over the course of a term, you would include a range of edutaining and useful teaching techniques – some blockbuster games and some more serious essay planning activities – but I believe the tendency should definitely be towards the later, more serious and concentrated lessons – obviously this may be different for other subjects – I’m just talking about Sociology here.
I write this at the beginning of a new term – when we have another week of revision for the AS and nearly three weeks for the A2s, a time when it is especially important to be making the most of ever minuted of in-lesson revision time.
My own approach to revision is, naturally, to shun edutainment and focus on more serious revision techniques. There is a reason for this – In sociology exams, most of your marks come from essays – and you need to demonstrate a range of conceptual, analytical and evaluative knowledge – so my favourite revision activity – essay writing and planning in class. This assumes that students have been revising previously before the lesson and know most of the knowledge. Essay planning involves selecting and applying this knowledge to specific questions. The lessons are duller than the ‘active lessons’ but they work better for those studious students who have done the work.
But I find myself under increasing pressure to ‘play revision games’ in lessons – because this is what other teachers do. I was horrified to learn in a recent lesson that a certain teacher, who shall remain nameless, apparently played a ‘good half hour’ (in student language that probably means 20 minutes) of blockbusters’. Students seem to think that they learn better from ‘active learning’ techniques, and this is how they justify their demands for ‘more fun’ lessons – by saying this and then juxtaposing the ‘fun active’ lessons to more traditional lessons – claiming that these are boring and make them ‘zone out’
If I allow 17 year olds to lead my lessons, if I ‘listen to the learner voice’ and allow them to be children by playing infantile revision games – then surely I’m failing them? Every adult that has genuinly achieved something in life knows that you have to discpiline yourself and do things you don’t want to do in order to get there – much of what you do is not fun. Furthermore, academic learning invovles pushing yourself through ‘pain barriers’ as you struggle to comprehend new ideas and arguments – this is not fun. Learning to learn means learning to put up with a certain amount of suffering.
Starting off with the assumption that students can’t concentrate and that lessons need to be fun is not only letting down students by encouraging mediocrity, it is letting them down by making them think it is acceptable to exist in a state of extended infantalisation. If we head doen the path of edutainment, we are not preparing students for life in the real world.