If you’re like me, sometimes you don’t tell your students exactly what to do in a center or when they are finished with their work, or even how to complete a given assignment. I’m not lazy. It’s not that I forget to teach them. Sometimes, teachers should hold information back, just a little.
Brain research demonstrates (link here) that children need to overcome challenges in order to learn. They need to experience frustration, and not know what to do sometimes, so they learn that they are capable of overcoming a challenge. I teach my students to notice when they are in “the pit” (link to previous post), that moment of frustration and anxiety when something is just difficult enough to stretch our brains.
It was not always that way with me.
Several years back, I was trained to spoon-feed my students their lessons, their daily procedures, everything. The big idea was that students should always know their roles and responsibilities, always what to do and how to do it. If they didn’t, the teacher was not doing enough.
So my students mastered their lessons and knew what to do at all times because everything was explicitly modeled. They never struggled or solved any problems (other than math).
There’s a term for what I used to do to my students: over-teaching. That’s when we do everything for our students to help them avoid the discomfort of the struggle. My students never had the opportunity to experience the productive struggle required to grow their brains.
This year, I’ve implemented several procedures and practices that may help you put your students in the pit AND grow their brains. I have posters in my classroom and continually refer back to the “learning pit”. They know its okay to feel anxiety and admit, “I’m in the pit.” It makes my heart sing when I hear this.
I also have a procedure in place that does most of the work for me. Students are required to “seek 3 before me”. They should refer to three resources before they are allowed to ask me for help. Many times those resources include other students, but that’s perfectly acceptable.
I also have these nifty posters that provide some direction. The posters gently remind students, “Remind yourself not knowing is okay.” And “Pause a moment and just think.” Sometimes, simple reminders are all it takes to point a student in the right direction.
It’s a Monday morning. I’m watching my students complete their centers as I attend to my small group at the reading table. One of my most challenged students is wondering around the room trying to determine what to do for his seatwork in centers. I watch as he looks around the room. He looks at his center assignment on the board then looks at the classroom poster with reminders. He walks over to a classmate, asks them a question, and then proceeds to complete his assignment. A few weeks ago, this same student was content to just stare out the window instead of completing his assignment because he didn’t know what to do.
Seeing your students struggle is difficult, but it’s necessary. Let them struggle if they are to learn. Step back and let them grow.