Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When the Work is Too Hard (But Shouldn't Be)

I have noticed a pattern in my class. The behavior of many of my students changes with the difficulty of the assignment. If the assignment is too easy they think it isn't important and mess around. If the assignment if too difficult they don't want to even try and mess around. It is only when an assignment is perfectly matched to their abilities that they will get into that great work mode that every teacher strives for in her classroom.

While I realize this fact and do my best to work with it to help my students have productive time in my classroom, it also drives me crazy!

Today we were working on creating graphs from a data table. We have been practicing this all week, but this was the first large set of data they were using (20 points). It wasn't supposed to be a difficult assignment because (1) we have been practicing all week and (2) they are in 7th grade, they should know how to plot points from a graph.

Well, it was really hard for a lot of them and they were desperately trying to give up, but I wouldn't let them. I was a lot more stern that I usually have to be and I actually made one boy cry (I took the scraps of paper he was playing with), but eventually they started working on their own.

While I was proud of them sticking to it, I was frustrated that all of their motivation has to come from me - this is exhausting for me and I won't always be there to help them so I want them to learn to do it on their own.

A big theme of our school year is "struggle" so this issue weighs heavily on my mind every day in class as I scold, encourage, and beg my students to try. Good thing I get to go home to three adorable kiddos to help me refresh my batteries every day! As I told my teaching partners, I don't know any four year old who isn't intrinsically motivated to try new things :).


  1. Yes, I struggle with the same thing with my 3rd graders. One of my biggest solutions, which is easier for me since I have younger kids, is using lots of the fun TPT products I find so they are almost constantly doing something engaging. For example, they are very motivated to do a writing assignment when there is a craftivity to go along with it. I never knew about craftivities until I joined TPT! In Math, they like to quickly give up on word problems, but they are slowly getting better at that as I force them to use all of the "thinking time" I give them before we go over a problem. I think this problem of not trying it very typical for all teachers!

    Ladybugs Lounge

  2. It is so sad that even third graders are giving up so easily! I am glad that you are having so much success with TpT products (that is good for all of us :)). Studying the problem at our school we have looked at the hypothesis that it is a cultural problem. Americans praise the end result so kids think that they are either smart or dumb; and what is the point of trying if you are dumb... In many of the Asian cultures they do a really good job of praising the effort and struggle. As a result, their kids try until they "get it".

    Thanks for sharing :)