What Makes it Play-skool? Fear and Safety in the Learning Space

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Play-skool and peer review: Commonly, I have my class write a project in stages, with peer review of each stage. Every time I introduce peer review to my learners, they go willingly enough through the exercise, submitting their work to one another and accomplishing their reviews. Then, as reliably as heartbreak, one of them asks optimistically, "So when will we get our real feedback?"

"You just got it," I reply with the even voice of long practice. Cue chill breeze and blowing dry leaves in twilight.

On the next round, the peer reviews are always better: more detailed, more genuine, in closer engagement with the assignment rubrics. The reviewers tackle their assessments as if something were actually at stake, which of course it is.

They have discerned the truth: peer review, in my class, is not "Play-skool." It's the real thing. They are afraid to let one another down, and they should be. A "safe space" is suddenly something that it's up to them to construct.

Slight shift of gears: In a recent faculty discussion about race and racism, we compared notes about how we address systemic racism (or, for another example, systemic mysogyny) as a subject matter in our various courses. As often happens, a colleague mentioned the frustration expressed in class (sometimes professionally, more often unskillfully) by the white man, usually young, who feels targeted in such a discussion. We talked about how to facilitate a safe space for him, but at the same time, we agreed that that's just the way the ball bounces: "The learning space is never completely safe. And shouldn't be." If it were completely safe, it wouldn't be a learning space.

It would be Play-skool.

So. On the one hand, I absolutely believe that the creative activity of making meaning can only happen in a space where fear has been removed…or removed enough, or removed in the right places. I have determined this in the crucible of fairly long experience. But at the same time, if all possible fears have been removed, if the space is made unsurpassingly safe…then we're in Play-skool, and learning is done.

Thoughts coming later on parsing this out more completely. What are your thoughts on fear, learner safety, and Play-skool?

[What Makes it Play-skool? Fear and Safety in the Learning Space was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/10/01. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]