Let them struggle, so they can learn.

Let me begin by saying 100% believe that all students are different. Each and every student has a variety of strengths and weaknesses as unique as their genetic sequence.

As educators our job is to provide instruction in a variety of ways to play to our students strengths, while also improving upon their weaknesses. This is done in countless ways starting with differentiated instruction, accommodations determined necessary by IEP and 504 teams, or something as simple as spending a few extra minutes at the end of class double checking a student wrote down his/ her homework. Recognizing these differences and solving the puzzle of how to connect with, and help each student learn are crucial aspects of the educational process.

The most important part of learning is learning how to learn. Developing critical thinking, judgement, and problem solving skills only comes through practice. These types of skills do not come easy, and they certainly do not spontaneously develop. They are learned by struggling, getting frustrated, confused until you have your “ah ha!” moment.

A fear I have at times as I see students working with assistants or tutors as part of their accommodations is that they no longer are given the opportunity to surpass a roadblock and celebrate an ah ha. Instead they’ve been conditioned to give up when they get stuck and get the answer given to them “help”.

This is not our students’ fault, Pavlov would proud of what we’ve accomplished. When a paragraph of text isn’t understood, instead of rereading it a few times, practicing reading comprehension, students can easily find someone to tell them what they need to write, as long as they look frustrated or confused enough.(who’s been conditioned anyway?) Oftentimes, when a problem gets tough the towel is thrown and the battle to solve it is over; instead someone around can “help” me solve it.

The best successes are those that come from a hard fight. In the end students are more proud of an accomplishment they worked for than of anything that is simply handed to them, even if it was hard,

We need to rethink how we support students. Re-train the staff that provide the support. Student should be allowed to struggle, get frustrated with hard work. Our role should be to facilitate or prompt how to get over a hurdle. It should not be to carry them over the hurdle, or put them on a track without hurdle all together, for fear they won’t clear it.

A student who difficulty with reading comprehension will never develop those skills if she never has to grapple with informational text. If she is simply told what to write based on the ability of someone else to read and understand the text for her she will not grow.

This is a monumental system wide change, but equally in magnitude is its importance. The first step starts at home. My goal for next year is to help more directly model, for those assistants I work with, how to facilitate problem solving without solving the problem.

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One response

  1. Why is it that whenever I read your blog posts, I get overly emotional? I’m starting to tear up right now. It’s probably just me because life started to get blurry after I finished reading the first 2 sentences of your post. I think the way you addressed different learning styles was really poetic but also fitting to a bio teacher (I remember that genetics unit in AP Bio, oh the good old days). I think you remind me of another teacher that I admire. He was able to teach his subject (AP US History) with many methods such as giving us primary source documents, packets, assigning readings from the textbook, and my favorites were giving us artwork to analyze. So many teachers simply stand up at the white/chalk/smartboard and write down a bunch of information for us to copy, memorize, and forget 6 months down the road.

    When you start talking about the struggle to learn is what really hit home to me. I remember getting lost in my AP US class a lot but I just kind of went with the motions. Then I started to ask my teacher questions and he gladly answered them. Ever since then I’ve improved in the class. Anyways, I really enjoyed this post (as you can tell) and I can’t wait to read more!

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