Sunday, January 6, 2013

Struggle in the Classroom

Our school has been focused a lot on struggle within the classroom. Kids are only really learning when they are struggling. However, there is a spectrum of struggle. If work is too easy kids won't be invested, and if work it too hard, they won't be invested either.

One problem that we have discovered with struggle, is that (in general) kids in the United States don't like to struggle. They shut down very quickly and stop trying. This is in comparison to students in China and Japan (among other countries).

We read an interesting article that suggested that this difference is because of a culturally difference in understanding what it means to be "smart". Parents in the United States tend to enforce the idea that people are either smart or dumb. Smart people have an easy time understanding things and dumb people struggle. Conversely, parents in Asian cultures pride hard work. The harder a child works, the "smarter" he or she is.

Well, I got a front row seat to witness what happens when students in my class are given an assignment that is too hard. I gave them some practice on identifying variables within a hypothesis. This is something they have been practicing for years, but they just don't understand it.

The day before my students had been amazing, working hard and engaged in the lesson. The day of the variable practice that class was gone. They were all having a really hard time focusing and were constantly off task.

Reflecting on the day that evening I realized that when my kids find an assignment out of their reach, they give up very quickly. If I can give them assignments that challenge them, but not too much, they will work really hard.

While I wish that they would try with every assignment I give them, I realize that this is just not the case for this class yet. I will have to be very careful about what I assign in the future...

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