Steps to get Ss Beyond: “did I get this right?”

Teacher Toolbox

The topic of student engagement, grit, tenacity, stamina, confidence—you name it—keeps coming up. What makes this such a hot topic is that there are so many aspects to it that it’s hard to figure out how to help students overcome it to become self-directed learners. Although there are many issues we have no control over which are involved in this, we need to maximize what we do have control over, and that’s what goes on in the classroom.

How many times have you had a student come up to you and say, “did I get this right,” or “just tell me what the answer is.” This type of question goes against so much of what our instructional aims focus on: there’s more than one way to get to an answer. We want our students to experiment, take risks, and not be afraid to fail; yet they often seem to be willing to work harder at trying to get us to tell them the answer than they are at trying to find the answer out on their own!

Andrew Miller poses the idea that many times students are experiencing “learned helplessness.”  He has a variety of solutions which I’ve summarized here:

  • Curate and create learning resources
  • Questions “for” not “about” learning
  • Stop giving answers
  • Allow for failure

Of course, these aren’t going to be the silver bullet that fixes your class the week after you try them, but each of them has merit depending on the students in your class. If you have students displaying “learned helplessness” trying one of these could be a good starting point

The idea of failure keeps coming up over and over and over. We try to model it, but to get the point across to students we need a number of tools in our toolbox to help. Embracing failure as a way to success is something most of us find very hard to do, and we need to hear about it in multiple ways, consistently to try and overcome our bias. The 5 minute film festival called: “Freedom to Fail Forward” is a great addition to your toolbox. There are 8 annotated videos under 5 minutes long which can be used for teachable moments or as the focus of a lesson. There’s also a list of links to more resources for those who want to dive deeper.

The underlying message in all of this is that within our classrooms are a variety of students who all have different needs, are at different places in their learning, and this changes not only with each student but sometimes each student is different from class to class or topic to topic. None of this is new to anyone, but what to do about it is the question we all strive to address every day. Thinking again of our efforts as tools in a toolbox, it’s worth looking at familiar tools again and maybe see them in a different light.

Thanks to Edutopia, @betamiller, and @VideoAmy for their posts referenced here.