Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 2 of 10

Drawing on these and other perspectives, we ask what might joy of learning mean for classroom practice? Can greater emphasis on joy of learning help develop a “true spirit of learning”? What new possibilities are opened up for learning/learners and teaching/teachers by greater focus on joy? What might this look like in history classrooms – a subject often perceived as boring and irrelevant? Can teachers make assessment more meaningful and a joyful experience for students? In this article, we take up these questions to consider what sparking joy might look like in history classrooms.

Start with Questions

Goodlad (1984) asked over 35 years ago, “Why are our schools not places of joy?” (p. 242). This question encourages us to ask if our own schools and classrooms are places of joy. And, it prompts other fundamental questions about the purposes of school and learning. We begin with the assumption that asking the right questions can enable new possibilities for teaching and learning. Exploring good questions can be a source of great joy; although they often arise from frustrations, problems, and tensions that we experience, questions prompt us to wonder, make sense of experience, to learn, consider the need for change and to grow as human beings. Starting from these premises, we ask you to consider a few from the outset:

  • What does joy mean to you? To your students? What is the experience of joy like?
  • What sparks joy for you? For your students? Think about a time when you (or your students) experienced joy. What gave rise to this experience?
  • Now, think about a time when you (or your students) experienced joy in teaching (or learning) history. Describe this experience. What was this experience like? Why did it happen? What particular conditions gave rise to this experience? What was it about history (as a subject) that contributed to this experience of joy?
  • In what ways can you share your experiences of joy with your students?
  • What do your students say brings joy to them? What do they find enjoyable in learning?

We hope these are useful questions for educators and students to discuss, to explore what is joyful or enjoyable in learning, even how or why many of us were called to study, learn, or teach history.

We believe history has potential to spark joy, that it can provide lively, engaging, meaningful learning experiences, and that it adds immeasurable value to life and preparing for the future. What is it that connects us to history as a subject or that continues to be a source of joy in terms of learning or teaching? We consider some possible responses next.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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