Sometimes as teachers in the classroom, who learned our material or to read and write decades ago, we forget the frustration and challenge of learning something new. Yesterday, however, I was confronted with a steep and challenging learning curve and I was struggling to stay on the road. Wow, I thought, it is absolutely amazing that kids continue to try at any of the things they find difficult and we want them to learn.
Mine was straightforward and I was highly motivated to master it, which is another thing sometimes missing in our students’ learning, an obvious and usable application to something they want (or we want them) to achieve. But that’s a topic for another day, back to my challenge, I was working to create a post that didn’t follow the typical format. How tough could it be? I thought. Shouldn’t it be a simple cut and paste? Well, over an hour later, cursing at the screen I was still ‘learning’. It was both interesting and frustrating. I was applying some of my previous experiences but finding the new situation was just different enough that it needed a new solution. I fussed and fumed, tempted to leave it looking ridiculous. What a waste of time, I rationalized. Why not just leave it? Isn’t it good enough? No it wasn’t, my pride screamed. This was published and we (a friend and I) had been working hard to build readership. Who would come back after seeing this mess? Did I want this to represent me? Us? So motivated by my baser instincts I went back to my laptop searching for a key to the correct formatting and ultimately I found it. Trust me, now it is something I will never forget.
And, therein lies my teaching moment. I asked myself, is this the level of frustration that my students face when approaching something new? No wonder students give up, throw up their hands, sometimes dissolve into tears, or end up with low self-esteem. Tomorrow, I will return to my classroom with a refreshed view of the frustration in learning new things, which, I hope will bring with it a renewed sense of patience as they navigate their own learning curves as well as the realization that supporting and encouraging them while they struggle might bundle the learning of perseverance in with their new skill.
As we prepare for the new Common Core, APPR, and teaching standards, we need to consider how to foster these fundamentally important learning traits. I have noticed that for a technologically savvy group, my students don’t necessarily do well problem solving or searching out their own solutions. My favorite adage, I tease them, “Where’s the best place to hide a dead body?”. The answers vary, and I always get a delayed chuckle when I quip, “the second page of any Google search.” The obvious is, we are a society addicted to immediate gratification. Answers to questions are sought at lightening speed across cyberspace, on tablets, laptops, phones, or even ipods, with inquiries returning millions of ‘hits’ within seconds. So, in line with my recent experience, the key to our students success, is not 21st Century skills, or mastering technology, it is something much simpler: their persistence, tenaciousness, and willingness to persevere-when they don’t’ understand something, when someone doesn’t understand them, when they are learning a new skill, or when the solution isn’t immediate. We must persevere, and once accomplished, it is that much harder to forget.