Joyful learning: Creating learning experiences students will never forget

How do we engage students every day in every lesson? We want them attentive, inquisitive, and ready to participate. Yet, at times we seem to be challenged to provide exciting learning for many of our students. In my book Engaging Minds in English Language Arts Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy (2014; ASCD), I provide multiple ways for teachers to choose engaging over boring, out of the ordinary over hum-drum, and thought provoking over drill and kill. In future blogs I’ll share some of these lesson ideas…but recently I gave my book to a friend, Greg Levers. Greg is a retired California probation officer. After reading the book and thinking about the idea of “joy” in teaching and learning, Greg shared this story:


While delving in the first portion on your book, I couldn’t help but think of an experience I had as a piano student. I was an adult and this was not in a classroom setting but still, the “power of joy” has some bearing. My instructor, Russel Baldwin, was a professor of music, a world-class pianist and I was in several of his classes. He was the mentor for Jimmy Webb who wrote many popular songs including “My Beautiful Balloon” and “McArthur Park.”  Mr. Baldwin was a nice man but he could be very intimidating.

I needed “keyboard training” as my major was composition.

“Can I be great?” I asked.

“No, not starting at age 19. You are too social You won’t spend 10 hours a day in the practice room. But you can still be very good.”

So I would go to his home in Redlands every Saturday, very close to where we turned around by the mansion a few months ago and I would be unprepared. I was partying too much on Saturday night and uninterested in the bland assignments, the same material his five-year old students would play. He was clearly frustrated with me.

“Could I pick a piece of my choosing?” I asked.

He thought about that. “What piece?”

“I really love the sound of Fur Elise.”

Mr. Baldwin had a look on his face like there was a better chance of me flying with my arms than playing Fur Elise. But, perhaps because Beethoven was looking down and trying to convey, Let him try! he relented.

“This is probably a mistake but go ahead. See what you can do with it.”

He probably figured I couldn’t do any worse. I returned the next Saturday and while I hadn’t mastered the entire piece YET, many measures were perfected. He was obviously surprised and told me my entire piano assignment WAS NOW Fur Elise.

I eventually played the piece in a recital as one of his students. I couldn’t play much of anything else but I could play that composition.

The point being that, even as an adult, I did not become motivated without a challenge and the “power of joy.”


Now, I ask you…do you have story about feeling the joy in learning? What difference did it make in your life? Feel free to respond below with your own story or contact me at!


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