As I was driving and thinking (something I frequently do in my car), something made me think of a panel discussion that I observed a few months ago. The conversation was about how to get students to take more responsibility for themselves in the classroom. There were adults from the community in the audience and the panel was made up of high school students. The students stated that they would do better in their classes if the teachers made them more fun. Why did they say that? Each adult who responded jumped on them for wanting school to be fun. Comments like, "School is not supposed to be fun", "That's the problem, you are focused on the wrong thing", "When I was in school you did the work because you had to, not because it was fun", were the dominant thoughts.
The point that the adults missed, that I pointed out to them, was that it wasn't about the classes being more "fun", but rather they be more engaging. It is true that many students are bored in class. Why show up to or do the work for a class in which you have no interest? While many adults feel that fun should not be a factor in the learning process, it is something that students hold as important. They will get more out of the content if they are engaged in what they are doing. When asked why they like a particular class, a typical response is that the class is fun. We have to understand that this is the language the students use. To them FUN = ENGAGED. That was the point that was missed. Students want to go to class, they just want a reason other than "you have to".
Perhaps the biggest reason the adults in the room had such a problem with the word "fun" is that they equated fun with frivolity and being non-productive. If we actually think back to our days in school and remember the classes we liked the most, we would also say they were the ones that were the most fun. Some people may use other euphemisms such as, "The teacher was funny", "The class was challenging", or "I really learned a lot." There is nothing wrong with classes being fun. We need to find ways to get our students engaged in their learning so they begin to create their own knowledge, rather than the teacher being the owner of the knowledge and lecturing. If that means introducing "fun" into the mix, so be it. We are trying to prepare our students to be college and career ready. Wouldn't it be easier for them to get and hold onto information if they enjoyed the process by which they obtained that information? Wouldn't we like our jobs more if we enjoyed going, if we actually had "fun"?