University of Delaware professor Roberta Michnick Golinkoff

UD professor’s book on improving schools focuses on fun

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

University of Delaware professor Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and her new co-authored book, "Making Schools Work," which will be published Friday.

University of Delaware professor Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and her new co-authored book, “Making Schools Work,” which will be published Friday.

University of Delaware professor Roberta Michnick Golinkoff believes that to rectify the decline of public education in America, students need to have fun while learning. 

So, with the help of five other academics, she spent the last two years working on a new book, “Making Schools Work: Bringing the Science of Learning to Joyful Classroom Practice.”

The book, which came out Friday, demonstrates with hands-on examples how a change in educational mindset, rather than in curriculum, can improve student outcomes on both standardized tests and skills needed to succeed in life after school. 

“COVID has had an effect on our children’s test scores and there’s no question that kids with fewer resources suffered the most, plus teachers are fleeing the field,” Golinkoff said. “But what if you could keep the same curricula, and you could make teachers feel more empowered, have more agency, and make kids more invested in their education.”

This book helps explain how to do just that. 

“Making Schools Work” offers three case studies of schools, including a statewide system in New Hampshire, that are all teaching with a “6 Cs” approach to learning.

“We argue, and based on thousands of psychological studies, that children need to be learning content with a focus on what we call the six C’s,” Golinkoff said. “That’s collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence.”

Descriptions of the 6 Cs. (Playful Learning Landscapes)

Descriptions of the 6 Cs. (Playful Learning Landscapes)

The book will guide educators and school leaders in applying the 6 Cs and playful learning principles to what goes on in the classroom every day.

Playful learning is a method of instruction that focuses on making lessons fun, active, engaging, meaningful and socially interactive. 

An example of how playful learning is implemented in a classroom, Golinkoff said, is having students act out a novel, in either large or small group settings, rather than being read to.

This creates an environment where students are engaged and everyone has a chance to participate and share their voice, she said.

Additionally, this method allows for students to vocalize and sound out new words and define words they’re unfamiliar with, all while putting themselves into fictional characters.

“So we can have teachers think about how to make up games, how to have kids work together to help each other, and how to invite children to understand the importance of learning,” Golinkoff said.

Goals of the book

Contributing to the book are Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Kimberly Nesbitt, Carol Lautenbach, Elias Blinkoff and Ginger Fifer

The authors tried to account for  different cultural and community values a school has while writing the book. 

Those that worked on the book have unique educational expertise and are a mix of teachers, educational administrators, museum educators and learning scientists, Golinkoff said. 

Their goals were to put teachers in the driver’s seat and remind them of why they teach, and provide culturally responsive, inclusive, effective and fun strategies for instruction.

This isn’t Golinkoff’s and Hirsh-Pasek’s first rodeo together. 

“Kathy and I have been collaborating over 40 years on several books,” she said. “It’s actually insane when you think about it. That only happens with married couples!”

Their last book together, which came out in 2016, was titled “Becoming Brilliant” and details the science of raising successful children. 

When she isn’t writing books or teaching, Golinkoff can be found playing tennis, practicing yoga, and attending different theaters and operas. 

She said instilling a love of learning at the youngest age possible is one of the best ways to improve education in Delaware, and nationally.

“We can’t ignore the first three years of life,” she said. “The brain is going crazy in the first few years, and we need to hone it in on learning from the jump.”

In addition to adopting a playful learning method, Golinkoff agrees that hiring more teachers of color and creating a collaborative environment between teachers, students, and families are ways education could be enhanced.

She directs the University of Delaware’s Child’s Play, Learning and Development Lab, whose goal is to study and understand how children learn language. 

“The main message I want people to take away from the book is that school does not have to be dull and boring, but rather it can be joyful, engaging, meaningful and socially interactive,” she said, “and if it follows our learning principles, and if we are mindful of how the activities that we create for children are building the 6 Cs, children will come out the better for it.”

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