The Learning Game, by Ana Lorena Fabrega — Book Review

I was sent the book The Learning Game: Teaching Kids to Think for Themselves, Embrace Challenge, and Love Learning, by Ana Lorena Fábrega, and this is my review:

I was very excited to be offered this book as I have written before about the problems I see (as a Montessori educator) with the public school system in America, and it seemed as though Ana Lorena Fábrega believes some of the same things.  After having read the whole thing, I must admit that The Learning Game leaves me with some conflicting feelings.

On the one hand, I absolutely love almost every single idea Fábrega lays out in the book:  the problems with instruction-based learning, standardized tests, and extrinsic motivators;  that children actually learn best through self-directed play, intrinsic motivation, and the opportunity to become completely absorbed in a topic of their own interest; and the importance of avoiding penalizing mistakes so that children can learn through trial and error.  Each of her points is backed up with extensive research, and she cites every last bit of it.  The book includes helpful charts and illustrations to emphasize the ideas for which she is advocating, and it was very easy and interesting to read. If you are looking for small ways to change the way you present ideas, evaluate students, engage your learners, or rethink standardized testing, this book is for you! I think it would also be interesting to use this book as a teacher/school admin book club to see how these concepts could be applied within a broader school environment.

There were a couple of chapters that didn’t quite seem to fit into the rest of the book – one about “The Psychology of Healthy Gaming,” and another about “The Model Parent” – and I think the book would have been more cohesive if the focus stayed on educational practices rather than trying to make it be a parenting book as well. If you are a homeschooling parent, these chapters may make more sense for you.

While I truly believe all of the things Fábrega lays out would be absolutely transformational when applied to our public school system, I’m not quite sure she takes us all the way there.  The Learning Game tells us WHAT to change about education and WHY to change it, but it falls short of telling us HOW to enact those changes on a broad scale. It is possible that this is an expectation *I* had for the book that was not actually the intention of the author.

I entered the book excited to learn how to apply these ideas to our public school system as a whole, but the book appears to be written more for motivated individuals (one teacher trying to change her classroom / one parent looking to supplement school) rather than in a way that can create broader, systemic change.  What I would really love to see would be a proposal for how to enact these ideas in the public school system in America from the top down, starting with teacher training and making this a part of the mainstream.  Instead, Fábrega closes the book with this: 

“With these eight options, you can create opportunities for your kids to avoid some of the dangerous side effects of modern education, without having to take them out of school.  Or you can replace traditional school with an alternative school, or pair traditional school with other educational programs.”

Fábrega’s solution seems to be to supplement public education with online learning programs (one of which, I must note, she sells as her main career), or to abandon public schools altogether for alternative schools.  What I was looking for was to learn how to systematically change public schools for the better to effect true societal change – not how the privileged few can look outside of public schools.

Overall, I recommend this book for the data-driven ideas and methods Fábrega discusses as ways to have our children truly engage with learning, and I’ll keep looking for practical solutions to enact them on a broader stage.  For the individual teacher or parent, this book is full of activities that are easy to implement with small groups of children. I would love to see a follow-up book with how to address these issues nationally in our approach to public education in America.