How many of your students respond with a “Yippee!” when you assign a problem or challenge that seems too difficult? We teachers know that most of our students will be able to overcome the problems. We’ve seen hundreds of students over the years who’ve grown their minds, exercised their talents, and accomplished the work.
But our students don’t know that. Some don’t know they will be able to do it. Not all of them.
We can coach students through their challenges with “The Power of Yet” and teach a growth mindset. But sometimes, those kiddos with a stubborn fixed mindset—(“I’ll never get this!”)—need a little more help.
Today my son was busy wrapping a birthday present. He’d been at it for over 30 minutes. I’ve seen this before: his frustration made evident with tears or sighs. Left alone, he’ll do one of two things—give up or solve the problem. If he solves the problems, he is all smiles.
To get to the smiles, here are some basic tools to get students unstuck, to help them move past their frustration without giving up.
The first step is to name the anxiety. Naming anything helps to normalize it. Children need to know it’s normal to feel anxiety, so the best educators often name this part of the learning process “the pit”. When students learn to recognize and then verbalize how they are “in the pit”, they are empowered to begin climbing out. Make “The Pit” poster an essential element of your classroom.
The next step is to give them tools to get out of the pit. I recommend anchor charts, asking the teacher for help, or seeking help from a peer. Whether they’re solving math problems, writing an essay, or asking questions from a text, anchor charts referring back to previously taught strategies are essential. Great resources are available through Teachers Pay Teachers. I’m sure you have more tools you can add to comments below!
Most importantly–the final step is not solving the problem. Instead, after the solution is found, you must emphasize the feeling of success, that “I’ve got it!” moment. Watch this great video demonstrating this step on YouTube. Students discuss the challenges of the pit, and the necessity of being in the pit to solve a problem.
Through making anxiety more normal and therefore acceptable, students can relax more easily when frustration starts to creep in. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you hearing “I’m frustrated” or “I’m in the pit”.