Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 4 of 10

In examining what contributes to joyful experiences in classrooms, Wolk (2008) argues that school spaces must be inviting places and encourage student exploration, discovery, and choice (e.g., see Starker & Baildon, 2014 for examples of classrooms designed for these purposes). Student choice and autonomy in learning seem to be crucial factors for joy. Rantala and Määttä (2012) argue that “joy is linked with freedom” (p. 95). Similarly, Kohn (2010) found that students need autonomy, opportunities to express themselves, and the freedom to generate possibilities for their learning, rather than be continually directed by their teacher or an overly prescriptive curriculum. Students need to be given the freedom to make choices, develop a sense of purpose, and be in greater control of their learning.

For teachers, supporting student autonomy is a critical factor in creating joyful and productive classrooms. According to Rantala and Määttä (2012), it is important for teachers to provide the right amount of guidance and support so that students feel they are able to successfully manage learning challenges. This requires teachers to help each student match their abilities with learning tasks and to avoid comparing them to others in terms of what they can and cannot do. Teachers must see each child as capable of performing the task given the necessary support, encouragement and guidance.

Meaningful engagement is key to joyful learning experience. Csíkszentmihályi (1990) describes such engagement as flow, “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at even great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (p. 4). Characteristics of flow include: working toward clear goals without fear of failure; focused effort with minimal distraction; a balance between challenges and skills; and immediate feedback on one’s actions either from others or as self-feedback as they monitor their activity.

In sum, what is important in terms of students experiencing joy in learning is that they feel a sense of purpose and agency, that they are able to make choices and direct their learning toward their own learning goals. Rantala, Uusiautti, & Määttä (2012) found that learners “finding tasks meaningful is crucial for the experience of joy” (p. 24). School work has to be perceived to be meaningful, the learner needs to set goals to work toward, and they must be granted opportunities to plan, direct and evaluate their own learning. 

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!