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Edutainers Make Lessons Engaging, Relevant

In coining the term "edutainer," Dr. Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy aren't suggesting that teachers juggle at the front of the room, but rather that teachers should use some entertainer-type skills to help make lessons more relevant and engaging. Included: Examples of the edutainer approach.

The explosion of technology has changed how people conduct business and their personal lives, but one area of society has remained largely unchanged: how education is delivered. Many teachers continue to lecture to classes about topics that have no connection to students' lives, even though today's students can find more information faster than any other generation in history.

Saying it's time to redo the teaching model, educators and authors Dr. Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy write in their book The Edutainer: Connecting the Art and Science of Teaching that teachers need to find more engaging ways to deliver instruction and connect the material to students' lives. According to a prepared statement about the book, "Edutainers are visionaries who understand that a change in culture requires a change in methods and presentation. These edutainers make their material relevant to present culture. Preparation is also vital to these performers. They organize and plan their material long before they get on stage. Finally, the effective educator and entertainer have to deliver a stellar performance that is relatable to the audience."

Johnson and Maxson McElroy talked with Education World about utilizing the edutainer approach in today's classrooms.

Dr. Brad Johnson Tammy Maxson McElroy

Education World: What are the main differences between the "edutainer" approach to teaching and the more traditional approach?

Dr. Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy: The traditional approach to teaching often has been what we refer to as the "task master" teaching style. This is the old "drill and kill" method of teaching in which students are given information to memorize and then recall for a test. Unfortunately, that knowledge is isolated and quickly forgotten.

The edutainer incorporates the skills of an effective educator and effective entertainer. That doesn't mean this is a teacher who stands in the front of the room and does standup comedy all day. But it is an individual who possesses such traits as vulnerability, wit, excitement, humor, and most importantly, a desire to motivate students to excel. The skillful entertainer must use relevant material to make a connection with the audience, and so must the edutainer.

The edutainer approach utilizes the "three Rs" that we define as relationship, responsibility, and relevant learning.

The classroom functions most effectively when there is a connection between the teacher and students. That means the teacher takes the time to build authentic relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. We have lost a sense of community in our culture, and it is that community that creates a positive support system for learning. Therefore, the edutainer creates intentional relationships with all parties involved.

Students are viable consumers in today's culture, so it is doubly important to build their higher-order thinking skills rather than stressing rote memorization.

The end result is that learning becomes more personalized for students, parents take on a more active role in their child's learning process, and the teacher works more closely with colleagues. Everyone has responsibilities in the educational process. Students feel more vested when they have responsibilities within the classroom because they experience a sense of ownership in the actual learning process and physical environment. Parents also take on such responsibilities as serving as the room parent, coordinating outings, or maybe even arranging for people in the community to come speak to classes.

Relevance is when a connection is made between curriculum and the real world. Data dumping for tests actually is the least effective means of education. Students retain information when they find it relevant, which builds a foundation for future learning. Therefore the edutainer bridges the gap between formal education and the real world.

EW: Why do you think it is so important that the approach to teaching changes?

Johnson and Maxson McElroy: Everything else in our culture has changed, such as the global business market, which has moved from an assembly-line manufacturing concept to a more service-oriented model. The Information Age of technology has moved us into an era of instant information. The role of the teacher has traditionally been to dispense information. That is because the teacher was the major source of information. But in our current culture, students get information from 400 channels of television, the Internet, cell phones, and a multitude of other media outlets. So education now is not about gathering information, but about learning how to make sense of, and utilize, information.

Students are viable consumers in today's culture, so it's doubly important to build their higher-order thinking skills rather than stressing rote memorization. As we explain in our book, children are consumers who make decisions about purchasing clothing, cell phones, video games, music, and much more. That wasn't the case 20 or 30 years ago, when children had very little input into making decisions. Therefore, it's important to give them some input into the educational process as well, because we are dealing with different students than we were in the past.

EW: What aspect of the edutainer approach is hardest for teachers to master?

Johnson and Maxson McElroy: It's not that the edutainer concepts are hard to master, but rather that the concepts are often overlooked. If a teacher graduates from an accredited teacher education program, one assumes the individual has a grasp of subject content and teaching pedagogy. But does he or she know how to manage and organize a classroom? Does the person have the confidence to lead a classroom? Does he or she know how to relate to the students, parents, and colleagues? Those are skills that need to be mastered in order to be an effective teacher.

Preparing a lesson plan is only one aspect of teaching. Managing an effective and successful classroom goes well beyond simply writing daily lesson plans. It involves managing, operating, and relating to students and parents, while effectively working with colleagues to build a unified educational approach within the school walls.

The edutainer incorporates the skills of an effective educator and effective entertainer. This individual possesses such traits as vulnerability, wit, excitement, humor, and most importantly, a desire to motivate students to excel.

EW: Can you give some examples of how an edutainer would teach a concept such as long division?

Johnson and Maxson McElroy: The edutainer's key to teaching any concept is to make it relevant and applicable to the real world. Students are exposed to so much information that it almost becomes "white noise" to them. If they can't find relevance in it then they are likely to tune it out. That wasn't the case even 20 years ago, but it is a very real issue in today's culture. Therefore, with any topic, it's important to incorporate a scenario that students could realistically experience.

So, to teach a concept such as long division, a teacher could have students plan a classroom party, either real or imaginary. Some of the challenges they would experience would be to coordinate food items, costs, and party supplies to accommodate a particular guest list. For example, some of the decisions students would have to make include the number of hot dogs and hot dog buns to purchase for the party. If the hot dogs are sold eight to a package and buns are ten to a package, then this decision becomes a division problem in order to accommodate 30 or so people in the class.

Other examples with beverages and party supplies would also have to be considered in the budget set for the party. The mere topic of planning something of interest to students allows the long division concept to become more authentic and personalized to them, in contrast to a standard textbook example.

EW: What would you say to teachers who say accountability pressures leave them with little time to be creative?

Johnson and Maxson McElroy: Actually, we believe that the accountability pressures are the very reasons to utilize the edutainer approach. If learning becomes personalized, and the curriculum is authentic, then rote memorization and repetition are marginalized. Why? Because students are vested in their own learning endeavors and parents are involved from the beginning of the year rather than waiting to be invited to a conference to get involved.

That approach to learning encourages student ownership so learning becomes memorable rather than just checking off items that appear to have no real value to them. Students are influenced more by pop culture than they are by formal education. That is a gap educators have to bridge, or formal learning will become less relevant over time. Therefore, the edutainer approach is about connecting education to the real world. Our goal, after all, is for students to succeed in a 21st century world.

To learn more about Dr. Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy and the "edutainer" concept, visit The Edutainers Web site.

This e-interview with Dr. Brad Johnson and Tammy Maxson McElroy is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.



Qualities of Effective Teachers
Effective Strategies for Teaching

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World


Published 10/12/2010