It is exciting to be back for a new year as we all have recharged our batteries over the summer and are ready to face the challenges of the new school year. Summer is a great time to escape and reflect on our teaching. For me, it was a whole new learning experience – house work.
I just wanted to take some time to reflect on this learning process and apply it to teaching and learning here at school. Like many learners, I found it overwhelming to attack most projects that were not of the everyday variety. Walking into Lowes (my preferred) or Home Depot I would look around and feel the onset of panic in my chest. Now I look at the tools and see nothing but possibilities. Now I look around my house and instead of worrying about what may go wrong, I feel a sense of control that it can be fixed.
What changed? How does this apply to our students? Well, I would say that there are a great deal of our students who are in similar situations. Students who look at a textbook or course syllabus and see an impossible task. They sit in the classroom and take no chances because all that they see is a failure on the other end, a failure that is made easier to rationalize as long as they put in little to no effort. What a teacher would take for granted as easy would be something that they would put off and just accept that they are “not good” at it, so they wouldn’t try.
So what did I learn? Here is what I took from my experiences:
Do you know what this is? This is a tool that’s only purpose is to fix a kitchen sink. Now a sink can be removed without this tool, but it would take more time and more frustration. In the midst of building a shed door the battery would die on my circular saw needed to be recharged adding hours to the time it took to complete the project. In the classroom, we are now being bombarded by the influx of new technology tools. They in many ways make life easier if we know how to use them. There are so many tools out there that it is difficult to know what tool to use and when to use them, but if we can equip students with the proper tools and so that students know not only how to use them but what tool they need to use, they will be able to handle more tasks more effectively. This is not limited to technological tools, but to skills as well. We need to put more tools in their toolbox.
One of the reasons why I never wanted to fix things around the house is because I always thought that “others” knew more than me. The attempt at home improvement was often met with my own insecurities being reinforced by “constructive feedback” that pointed out the things that I did wrong and the things that I could do things better. It stymied my desire to try new things – I just wasn’t good enough. As teachers, we often give students similar feedback. We see the ultimate goal in mind and often see goals not met, but it is the progress and improvement that need to be acknowledged. It wasn’t until my projects were met with excitement that I gained the motivation to try and to try again – even after I failed. In teaching feedback is so important, but balancing positive and negative feedback is a work of art.
If you had to ask me how I learn best, I would probably tell you that I learn best by reading, but that may just be because that is how I am used to learning. Over the course of the summer I learned many different ways and I really couldn’t tell you which one I like best. It began when a friend came over and showed me how to fix one of the pipes that was leaking in my basement. For a task that I never would have attempted on my own I found it help me “get over the hump” by having someone next to me to walk me through the process, but I also watched tons of YouTube videos that I found helpful as well – although each real life scenario presented some obstacle that was not part of any of the videos. In these scenarios I was dying to have a professional on the line to help my overcome some simple hurdle. In education we have seen how multiple learning styles has said that there is not a one-size-fit-all theory of education. The concept of differentiating can seem overwhelming to try to produce video, audio, or many other teaching materials for students to learn. The idea of moving away from the textbook towards the various other formats that are readily available on the web is not as important as making sure that the teacher is available at the moment that the student needs them the most – when they are struggling.
Frustration and Failure
One of the things that people tell me when I brag about my good deeds is that they knew that I would be good at fixing things because I have patience. I mean you are talking about the kid who would sit and do puzzles for hours straight when he was younger. Those people are not privy to the multiple obscenities that trickle from my tongue. Teachers and Students often take for granted that the process of learning is littered with failure. Many teachers are afraid to move away from the front of the classroom because they feel that they have to know everything. Many students struggle at first with creative tasks because “they don’t get it”. If I gave a student a task and they immediately “got it” than they didn’t learn anything. This process of frustration and failure needs to be recognized and expected. The most difficult tasks were the ones in which I took the greatest pride and felt the most accomplished.