As a fifth grade teacher I have seen several students, who lacking basic skills, become brain tied when learning a new concept. For example my students were neatly arranged at my gathering area and trying their best to give me their undivided attention. I was rolling out a “perfect” lesson, my visuals were so artistic, and the pacing of my lesson had gone from basic skills to our new concept. All of this while providing my students with chances to revoice, collaborate, and digest the important concept I was so eloquently imparting to them. Before wrapping up, I checked my pedagogy by asking the students to answer a question that I would use to gauge their level of learning. It is at this time that I could tell that my “perfect” lesson was not quite so perfect. I could tell by two students looking upward hoping the answer would fall from the air onto their paper. Four more were working hard, steam rolling out of their ears only to be creating the most convoluted answer the world has ever seen. The final group was ready to burst if I didn’t acknowledge their correct answer. All of these emotions were ebbing and flowing each day in the students I taught. And all of these emotions are a part of every human today.
Last night I had a fun time participating in Denise’s Linky party.*I spent several hours looking at the quality blogs that professionals all around the country are creating. One element in common was a button to grab. I thought to myself, “I need a button like everyone else.” Several years ago I had worked with a little HTML coding to create web pages and so I thought it would be fairly easy for me to create a button and add the widget. Four hours later I finally finished. For four lovely hours I tried to solve one problem after another to make a ridiculous icon with some code beneath it. Other wiser people on the web had written perfect directions and even provided coding generators that provided the basic idea, but time after time I failed to make it work correctly. With no people for guidance I had to solve the glitches myself or give up.
In our classrooms we often find that the difference between a great student and a poor student has less to do with their teachers, home life, or aptitude, but many times has more to do with their motivation. No one likes to fail or try something that they are terrible at, but in our lives and the lives of our students we must be willing to keep working on our inadequacies until we have accomplished an acceptable outcome. We must foster in our lives and the lives of our students the ability to identify our weaknesses, ask for help when we need it, and be willing to work hard to reach our goals.
This fall I am going to share with my students my inability to master a simple concept and express to them the misery I felt. I am then going to use that in establishing a classroom culture where it is ok to fail, as long as we learn from these failures and take steps to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.
(Let me know in the comments below how you motivate students who want to give up to avoid further failure.)