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The Bigger Picture: Does Learning Have To Be Unpleasant?


Does Learning Have to be Unpleasant?

At Talking Stick, we love to learn through play. But aren’t there at least some things that children have to learn that are unpleasant? The answer is that there are so many unpleasant learning experiences that happen whether we construct them or not, that we do not need to coerce young people into additional unpleasant learning activities. Young people learn about physical pain when they fall off their bicycles, emotional pain when their best friends exclude them, the limit to a parent’s patience, a stomachache from eating too fast, and the boredom of waiting for the bus. I know what you’re thinking, “But what about grammar?”

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting for homeschooling parents to share their experiences with parents considering homeschooling. A college English professor, who was considering taking his daughter out of public school, asserted that there was no way to make learning grammar an enjoyable experience. It was just something you had to do and was just inherently no fun, like facing a class full of texting freshmen.

Interestingly enough, I never really sat down and taught my son grammar. Let’s explore what grammar is. Descriptive grammar is the set of the rules of a language that you pick up by hearing the language spoken. Whether you hear, “I am not. . .” or “I ain’t”, that is an example of descriptive grammar which linguists love recording and analyzing down to the most minute of details. This is what my son learned while listening to the people around him speak without any instruction at all.

Prescriptive grammar is a set of rules someone made up to designate what is the “correct” way to speak and write. So when your young person says I “goed to the store”, the prescriptive grammar is “I went to the store” (Bear in mind such inaccurate conjugations are the brain’s way of applying rules for regular verbs to instances of irregular verbs. After hearing irregular verbs conjugated over and over again the brain catches on. There is no need to correct such inaccurate conjugations since they mostly correct themselves).

Back to the pleasant versus unpleasant learning experiences. When the college professor made his statement, I thought, “Aha, a challenge!”  For example, capitalization is consciously learned: you can’t hear it in the spoken language. So how to share these helpful rules with young people in a pleasant way? One of the activities that Talking Stick’s Writing Workshop has offered over the years is collaboratively correcting a paragraph full of grammatical mistakes:

In canada, I visited a museum with me parents We thinked that the exhibit’s their were fantastic. We goed to a room full of canadian Maple Syrup. I drank so much they’re that I almost threwed up. My mother sayed, “Jerry, no, more drinking?”

Then participants can make up similar stories for their peers to correct. If you associate pleasure with a learning experience, people are more likely to want to go back for more. Do not, you agree!