Joyful Learning

I. Safe, Inclusive, & Healthy Environments

II. A Meaningful Program of Study

III. Engaging Pedagogy

IV. The Essentials

Why is Joyful Learning Important?

Children everywhere learn best when they are happy. [1] However, when children join our accelerated education program, their previous experiences with school have often been far from joyful. If they attended government-run classes previously, it is likely that the quality of the lessons was low due to overcrowding, limited resources, and poor teacher training, leaving many students to learn very little. [2]

Even more alarming, some students might have suffered abuse and violence from their peers or teachers in the past. In Sub-Saharan Africa, one study of students aged 10–19 found that 43% reported being physically attacked at school. For those who have never enrolled, the idea of school can be intimidating due to both real and perceived threats. When students do not feel safe at school, they are less likely to attend school regularly and succeed academically. [3] Even in schools where violence and abuse are not prevalent, traditional teaching methods that emphasize rote learning rather than interactive and engaging methods can stifle students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn. As a result, the learning environment lacks the joy that can motivate students to engage with the material.

An Ethiopian girl smiles in her classroom as she practices writing in her notebook.

Students in Ethiopia have fun during writing practice. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund) 

The Luminos Fund has zero tolerance for any form of violence or corporal punishment in our program. At Luminos, we strive to create a safe and inclusive environment where students can feel comfortable and enjoy learning.  Our engaging and meaningful lessons provide students with knowledge and skills through a process that empowers them. By using these methods, we change students’ perception of education to something that is joyful, resulting in better learning outcomes and equipping them with a love of learning that will continue to benefit them throughout their lives.

Key Messages

We believe that the following three features are essential in creating joyful learning experiences for our students:

      These experiences help to develop a love of learning among our students that continues well beyond their time in the Luminos program.

      This webpage includes an overview of these three features. For more detailed information, recommendations based on our experiences, and a discussion of some of the challenges involved, you can download this document.

      Our Approach

      I. Safe, Inclusive, and Healthy Environments

      The phrase “joyful learning” often brings to mind images of creative play and games. While these elements are important, ensuring that students feel safe is an essential prerequisite for them to enjoy school.

      Safeguarding Students’ Welfare

      Luminos staff and teachers receive comprehensive child protection and safeguarding training created by local and international specialists.

      We work closely with parents, caregivers, and community members on safeguarding and child protection through regular meetings throughout the school year.

      We also train supervisors of our teachers to deliver lessons to students about their rights, how to respect others in class, and what to do if they don’t feel safe. Students are also taught about a hotline that they can call for free to report any concerns that they might have.

      Inclusive Classrooms

      Ensuring all students feel included and can fully participate in classes is essential for providing a joyful learning experience. We set the expectation with our teachers that all children are capable of learning and encourage them to use kind, welcoming language with students to break down the traditional stereotype of a teacher as someone to be feared.

      We encourage teachers to question gendered stereotypes, ensuring boys and girls participate equally across subjects and get the support they need to be successful. We also work with families to ensure that they are supporting girls’ learning.

      We train and support teachers to use diverse methods in their lessons, helping them to meet the diverse needs of learners. We also train teachers to assess students weekly and provide additional support to those who are struggling. For more information about how we assess students and provide support, see the Teacher-led Assessment element of the Luminos Method.

      Topics Covered in “Your Promise,” a Story for Luminos Students About Safeguarding

      “Luminos parent engagement group meetings “promote girls’ learning and challenge unhelpful gender norms and stereotypes that continue to constrain girls and women in Liberia.”

      Westbrook and Higgins, University of Sussex, 2019, p9

      Healthy Students

      We recognize that good health supports students to have enjoyable and successful learning experiences. We provide students with opportunities to learn about and discuss topics including common diseases, hygiene, nutrition, the human body, and substance abuse, to support their health and well-being.

      For many children, hunger is also a barrier to joyful learning. When Luminos launched in Liberia, we identified food insecurity as a potentially serious obstacle to learning and began a midday meals program. This helps our students stay healthy, concentrate better on their lessons, and serves as an additional incentive for enrollment and attendance.

      To learn more about safeguarding students’ welfare and creating inclusive, healthy environments, download the full PDF!

      II. Meaningful Program of Study

      Meeting Students Where They Are

      We believe that learning is more enjoyable when it is meaningful. To achieve this, we focus on the most relevant skills, particularly foundational literacy and numeracy. This targeted approach helps students to see their progress very quickly, providing them with great satisfaction, building their motivation, and positively impacting their future achievements.

      Ensuring Content is Culturally Relevant

      Research has shown that incorporating culturally relevant teaching can improve students’ engagement and academic performance in lessons. We use locally created reading materials, traditional games and songs, along with locally sourced materials to help create a more familiar space for children. Wherever possible, we also use students’ first language as the language of instruction, and when this is not an option, we seek other opportunities to use and show that we value students’ local languages and cultures, including inviting guest speakers from the community to come into the classroom and share their expertise.

      For more detailed information and examples of how Luminos makes classes culturally relevant and how our focus on mastery of foundational skills helps students develop their confidence, see the Identity and Self-Belief element of the Luminos Method.

      To learn more about the Luminos Method and how we create a meaningful program of study, download the full PDF!

      Our recommendations for creating a meaningful program of study:

      Tailor lessons to meet students’ actual learning levels.

      Prioritize core subjects until students have acquired the basic skills, especially at the beginning of the school year.

      Incorporate locally created stories and materials.

      Use local languages as much as possible, even when it’s not the language of instruction…

      Find opportunities for students to hear and use local languages in lessons, such as inviting guest speakers or allowing students to discuss answers in their first language before transitioning to the classroom language.

      III. Engaging Pedagogy

      Interactive Lessons

      In Luminos classrooms, we use a wide range of teaching methods that span from structured, explicit instruction to more student-led, project-based learning, depending on the topic being covered and the students’ level of understanding. A common feature of all lessons is that they are interactive and engaging, with plenty of opportunities for students to apply and practice what they are learning.

      There are frequent interactions, with communication moving in two ways between teachers and students — the teacher is not simply imparting information to the students and expecting them to listen passively.

      Social and Collaborative Learning

      We encourage students to work collaboratively in groups and pairs, providing them with opportunities to practice skills, explore new concepts, and build confidence in a non-threatening way. This is especially important for learners who are shy or apprehensive about speaking in front of the class when they first join the Luminos program — a common occurrence for formerly out-of-school children.

      In Ethiopia, our teachers often assign different tasks to different groups, leading them to practice the same content in different ways. After a brief introduction to the topic, the teacher assigns each group to one of the types of activities show in the slider to the right.

      Activity Groups

      Below are some examples of the kinds of things students in each group might decide to do in a lesson on traditional forms of measurement.

      Handicrafts

      Making their own measurement devices from bottle tops, string, cups, tins, and sticks measuring and recording the size of items in the classroom.

      Games

      Taking turns to see how far they can jump, then measuring and recording the distance using their foot lengths. Recording and totaling scores after three rounds to find the winner.

      Music

      Creating a song about items they have measured in different ways, e.g., using the tune of a well-known song to sing: “Our desk is 10 hands long. My book is 9 thumbs wide. The class is 8 steps wide…”

      Stories

      Creating a story about why someone needs to measure things, how they did it, and the sizes of the different items, e.g., a carpenter making furniture. The teacher would encourage students to measure items in the classroom to make sure they sizes are realistic.

      Flashcards

      Creating two types of flashcards. One with numbers 1-10, the other with pictures of different ways to measure, e.g., thumbs, handspans, foot length, steps, or cups. Then choosing one of each kind of card at random and trying to find items in the classroom of that size.

      Sample Games and Activities

      At the end of the lesson, each group shares what they did with the rest of the class, helping students to see the same information or concept represented in multiple ways, reinforcing conceptual understanding behind mathematical processes.

      “Structuring lessons around games and activities in small and large groups generates social interactions and helps students build communication skills. In the process of developing a skit, song, dance, or story, students learn to think, explain, and reflect. As differences of opinion arise, they negotiate, building interpersonal skills, and learn how to substantiate their claims with evidence.”

      Dr. Susan Rauchwerk, Professor of Education at Lesley University on the benefits of the collaborative nature of Luminos classrooms

      Playful Activities and Games

      Playful activities and games are an important feature in the Luminos classroom, serving as a means to engage students, keep their attention, and increase their enjoyment of lessons.

      Students are also encouraged to use role play to demonstrate their understanding or apply new skills. For example, by acting out a story or using the pretend market stall in each classroom to apply numeracy skills.

      Physical and Multi-Modal Methods

      Luminos lessons are multi-modal, meaning that they use tactile and kinesthetic methods, alongside visual and auditory approaches. Our classes include frequent opportunities for students to move as they learn. Activities might involve jumping, running, stretching, dancing, and clapping, or the use of objects to support learning.

      Empowering

      There are frequent opportunities for students to lead activities and take on responsibilities. This helps to keep them engaged and develop a sense that the classroom is a shared space, and allows them to take pride in their work, important factors in enjoyment of learning.

      We also find that students feel very empowered by the progress they can see themselves making. This is often most apparent in literacy lessons where our targeted approach on foundational literacy skills helps students to move from recognizing just a few letters to being able to read simple sentences and short stories independently in a matter of weeks. For detailed information about how we teach literacy and monitor students’ progress, see the Phonics for First-Generation Readers and Teacher-Led Assessment elements of the Luminos Method.

      To learn more about developing an engaging pedagogy, download the full PDF!

      Sample Materials

      IV. The Essentials

      In the Luminos program, we have found that students learn joyfully and most effectively when they are provided with:

      Safe, healthy, and inclusive environments:

      Where students’ rights are protected and respected, they are supported to be healthy, and they feel valued and included regardless of their background.

      A meaningful program of study:

      Targeting relevant skills, using culturally relevant materials and methods, enabling students to feel successful.

      Engaging pedagogy:

      That is interactive, playful, social, physical, and empowering, building students’ skills and confidence.

      This approach not only ensures that students acquire academic knowledge and skills, but also reframes how they feel about education and the experience of learning, equipping them with the social skills and confidence that enable them to be successful both inside and outside of the Luminos classroom.

      Footnotes & References

      [1] Suldo, S. M., Huebner, E. S., Friedrich, A. A. & Gilman, R. (2014) Life Satisfaction. In Furlong, M. J., Gilman, R., & Huebner, E. S. (Eds.). Handbook of positive psychology in schools. Routledge.

      [2] For example, our 2022 baseline survey in Ghana showed that among Luminos students who had previously attended school, 40% were still unable to read a single word in a test using a simple passage when they joined our program (Educational Assessment and Research Centre, 2022).

      [3] Mioko, 2015; Chen & Weikart, 2008; Barnes et al., 2006; Peguero et al., 2019, Gottfredson et al., 2005

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      The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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