As a teacher, one of my favorite experiences is watching a student struggle with a problem, persist, finally get it, and say something like, “I got it, and I feel amazing!”
That’s what I overheard one of my most challenging students say a couple weeks ago in my classroom. About a math problem. I’ll be honest, at first I thought maybe she was being sarcastic, but a little bit later she was telling someone else, “I did it, and it feels great!” She was truly proud of herself and wanted those around her to know what she did, and it. was. awesome.
Here was the task students were working on.
The back side of the sheet had problems like this.
As I think back on this day, something stands out to me. If this student had been in my classroom last year, she probably wouldn’t have had that experience. Why? Because I probably wouldn’t have put that worksheet in front of her, or any other student in my class.
This was a worksheet I created my first year teaching. I had found a worksheet with similar problems in our textbook resources, loved how it went, and wanted more problems like it. I was excited to have students work on this task, but that excitement quickly turned to frustration when I found that students struggled with these problems much more than the ones on the worksheet from the textbook. They were frustrated, and I was frustrated. I was frustrated that things weren’t going as I had planned and that I didn’t know what to do. I was disappointed what I thought was a great idea, didn’t turn out so great. So we moved on, and the worksheet found its way to the back of my filing cabinet.
I let that one bad experience with this impact decisions on what activities I would and wouldn’t do in my classroom for several years.
Rather than try to learn from that day and try again, I opted for more familiar activities where I could pretty much predict how the lesson would go. I avoided activities where I anticipated a similar outcome and chose to use activities that were comfortable for me because I didn’t know if I was prepared to pick up the pieces of a failed lesson.
And then like Princess Mia in Princess Diaries (1:15), I realized how many stupid times a day I use the word I.
What about my students? How often do I rob students of their own “I got it, and I feel amazing!” experience because I choose not to use a task I knew was good for fear of how the lesson might go simply because it was less familiar and more uncomfortable for me?
Probably more often than I want to know. So next time I’m planning a “safe” activity, I hope I will remember to stop and think twice about it and think about my students. Sometimes safe is ok, but sometimes safe doesn’t lead to “I got it, and I feel awesome!” moments for students, and I want more of those moments in my classroom.
Here is the link to download both the pdf and Word versions of the worksheet.